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Women veterans of DAV making history

Today, women are serving in the military in record numbers, representing more than 16% of active-duty military and 10% of veterans.

"We want to continue driving meaningful reform to ensure all veterans have equitable access to the benefits and services they have earned," said Joy J. Ilem, DAV’s national legislative director and U.S. Army veteran.


Retired Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum

DAV life member Rhonda Cornum joined the U.S. Army in 1978 and was serving as a flight surgeon with the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq in February 1991. On a mission to rescue a downed fighter pilot, her UH-60 Black Hawk was shot down by enemy forces.

 Rhonda Lee CornumFormer prisoner of war MAJ. Rhonda Lee Cornum, a flight surgeon assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 229th Aviation Brigade, sits next to U.S. Army COL. Richard Williams on a C-141B Starlifter transport aircraft after her release by the Iraqi government during Operation Desert Storm. (photo source: NARA & DVIDS Public Domain Archive, accessed 1/25/23)

Cornum was one of three soldiers to survive the 140-mph crash. She suffered two broken arms, a bullet wound to her shoulder and knee damage, only to be dragged from the wreckage and taken into Iraqi captivity. On her way to confinement, Cornum was sexually assaulted by one of her captors. She survived the eight-day captivity and was released back to the Army on March 6, 1991.

"It helps put everything else in perspective," Cornum said of being taken captive. “It made you recognize your strength when previously it hadn’t really been tested much.”

Cornum endured her injuries and recovered well enough to continue her military career. She retired from the Army at the rank of brigadier general in 2012.

Past National Commander Delphine Metcalf-Foster

DAV life member Delphine Metcalf-Foster has laid the foundations of legacy in her own right. In 1996, she retired from the Army as a first sergeant after a 21-year career. Her military service included time with the U.S. Army Reserve’s 689th Quartermaster Unit at Oakland Army Base, the 6211th Transportation Unit at the Presidio of San Francisco and the 6253rd Hospital Unit at Letterman Army Medical Center. She also worked as a quality assurance specialist with the Department of Defense at Naval Air Station Alameda.

In 1991, Metcalf-Foster was injured while serving in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War. After retiring, she found support and camaraderie at DAV and began volunteering to drive veterans to their medical appointments. She stayed active within the DAV Department of California, and in 2004, she was elected state commander.

Then in August 2017, Metcalf-Foster became the first woman to assume DAV’s highest post when she was elected national commander. She was also the first woman elected to lead a major veterans service organization.

In 2022, U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson and John Garamendi of California introduced a bill that would rename the Mare Island Veteran Affairs Clinic in Vallejo, California, the Delphine Metcalf-Foster VA Clinic. Metcalf-Foster has volunteered for the VA Northern California Health Care System for over 25 years and continues to volunteer at the Mare Island clinic once a week.

“DAV has been there for me since 1996 when I retired from the Army and DOD,” she said. “They gave me the confidence to serve and to lead, and for that I will always be grateful. This tribute, should it come to fruition, represents all of us.”

Strengthening programs and services for women veterans

As the fastest-growing subpopulation of the military and veteran community, more women are turning to the Department of Veterans Affairs to address post-service health issues and readjustment challenges. Yet despite much recent progress, women veterans continue to face significant barriers to accessing their earned benefits and still do not receive proper recognition for their service to the nation.

DAV continues to fight for equal access to benefits and quality health care for women veterans through legislation, policy and education.

Will you ensure women veterans have access to the benefits they have earned in service to our country along with their fellow veterans? Join us in supporting our nation's heroes by giving today.


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