On Monday, Nov. 11, we celebrate Veterans Day by honoring all the courageous individuals who have served our country, maintained our freedom and kept us safe. Our veterans have exercised an unwavering commitment to protecting us, and now that they have been discharged and/or are retired, we, as Americans, owe them nothing less than the best — especially in the arena of healthcare. While advances in military medical care have grown over the years, one group of veterans are often still overlooked.

“If you ask people to donate supplies for veterans, you’ll receive men’s T-shirts, men’s socks and men’s underwear,” said Kathleen Laurier, co-founder of the VA Maternity Outreach for Moms. “People don’t stop to think that there are female veterans, too. In fact, in Arizona alone, we have over 60,000 female veterans.”

That is why Jewish War Veterans Post 619 is partnering with MOMS to host a baby shower to honor and help local pregnant veterans.

In 2007, while volunteering at the Phoenix VA hospital, Navy veteran Laurier and her sister, Barbara Klinedist, established MOMS to support pregnant veterans.

“The VA hospital program manager had a list of pregnant women,” Laurier said, “but since the Phoenix VA lacked a birthing center, the girls had been directed to other nearby hospitals. We were given this list and asked to check on them; thus, the tracking program was born.”

When the VA wanted to gift some presents to the new mothers, the first baby baskets were created.

“The baskets were tiny at first,” Laurier said, “so my sister and I subsidized them for a while. Then, our Daughters of the American Revolution chapter held a baby shower to promote our mission. Soon other chapters were following suit with their own showers.”

According to Laurier, she and her sister have traveled all over the state to attend these baby showers, and as more and more charities host showers for their cause, their baskets keep growing larger and larger.

“Not all VA hospitals do the gift baskets,” Laurier said. “After my sister and I spoke at conferences in Cincinnati and Houston, respectively, several area hospitals in each city implemented them. Our goal is to establish the gifting program at every VA hospital.”

“We’re always promoting and helping veterans, so we invited Kathleen and Barbara to speak at one of our meetings,” said Nancy Stutman, co-membership chair of JWV Post 619. “Afterwards, I suggested we throw a baby shower, so this November will be our first ever MOMS shower.”

The MOMS organization coordinates with Veterans First to see that the baskets arrive safely at the VA hospitals where they will be given to pregnant veterans during breastfeeding seminars.

“Veterans First caters exclusively to female veterans,” Stutman said. “In fact, it’s the only charitable organization that serves these women.”

JWV Post 619 invites the public to join them at the MOMS baby shower being held on Sunday, Nov. 17 in the Navajo Room at Sun Lakes Country Club in Chandler. 

Laurier and Klinedist will be the keynote speakers. The fun begins at 9:30 in the morning and features treats like pastries, bagels and coffee.

The baby shower is free. Laurier and Klinedinst only request that each attendee bring a new, unwrapped gift for future distribution to pregnant veterans.

When it comes to appropriate presents for mom and baby, suggestions include baby clothes up to 12 months; infant care items such as thermometers, hairbrushes and nail clippers; disposable diapers; bath towels and other bathing supplies; bottles and bottle accessories, like brushes; blankets; and children’s books. New gifts for moms can include shampoo, conditioner, lotion, combs and brushes, flip flops, slipper socks, nursing supplies, candles and bath supplies.

Laurier reports that with one third of new recruits being women, VA services are constantly expanding for female veterans.

“I’m in my 70s,” Laurier said, “and when I started going to the Phoenix VA, they didn’t have a mammography department. Today, they have one of the most high-tech and top-notch facilities in the US. Hopefully, one day soon we’ll have a birthing center, too. In the meantime, I’m just so proud of the girls who are serving their country and making a valuable difference everyday.” JN

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