“You can’t swing a dead cat in Fort Worth without hitting some organization that says it’s serving veterans,” said Olson, the charismatic, straight-talking CEO of women’s veterans group Grace After Fire, based in Fort Worth. “But I’d rather have the space for helping veterans be crowded, with lots of people trying to do good work within it, than have it be cavernous, with nobody there to help us.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is responsible for healthcare and benefits for qualified vets, but not every veteran is willing to walk through its doors. Some have had bad experiences with the VA, some aren’t willing to deal with the bureaucracy, and others –– especially women veterans –– say they don’t feel welcomed there, either by the staff or by other veterans who might question their service. Nationally, fewer than 40 percent of eligible veterans actually are enrolled with the VA, though the numbers are higher for troops who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Olson has a strong opinion on what’s wrong with typical veterans’ mental health services, which she said have traditionally been “about what’s wrong with us.” She and other veterans resist and resent stories that paint all veterans as damaged goods, she said.