Trowell-Harris Named Leader for 21st Century

Dr. Irene Trowell-Harris, a retired USAF NC major general and current Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Center for Women Veterans, was recently named one of the “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” by Women’s eNews. Dr. Trowell-Harris and 20 other “unstoppable individuals committed to bettering women’s lives” will be honored at a Gala Dinner in New York, on May 16, according to Women’s eNews. Winners of the 21 Leaders Award are selected by Women’s eNews from a reader-nominated list of hundreds of individuals who dedicate their lives to improving the lives of women.

One of 11 children from a southern farming family, Dr. Trowell-Harris grew up picking cotton but she dreamed of airplanes. Years later, the SC native realized her dream when after graduating from high school she earned a nursing degree from Columbia Hospital School of Nursing, Jersey City State College and became a flight nurse with the Air National Guard. She had numerous accomplishments to her credit during her 38 years with the Air Force and Air National Guard including serving as a flight nurse instructor, being the first nurse to command an Air National Guard medical clinic and becoming the first African American woman to serve as a general officer in the National Guard, retiring as a major general in 2001.

With a master’s degree in public health from Yale University and a doctorate in education from Columbia University, Dr. Trowell-Harris wasn’t quite ready for permanent retirement when she took off her uniform in 2001. After hearing about so many women veterans who were having difficulties obtaining benefits from the VA, she soon realized her second calling–to help women veterans. In Fall 2001, she was appointed as Director of the VA’s Center for Women Veterans, making her the primary advisor to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on programs and issues related to women veterans.

“The VA was basically designed for men,” Dr. Trowel-Harris said in a Women’s eNews article. “When they started to get women veterans coming in, they were not treated the same way. They were not treated with dignity and respect.”

Changing these attitudes toward women veterans and fostering a positive environment for women seeking healthcare and other benefits through the VA is precisely what Dr. Trowell-Harris and her predecessor Vietnam veteran Joan Furey have been working on since the Center was created on May 15, 1995. In the five years since Dr. Trowell-Harris took over, she has worked diligently to continue the work–and the momentum–started by Furey. The numbers of women veterans receiving benefits in the areas of health care, education and mortgage loans is increasing rapidly, Dr. Trowell-Harris told Women’s eNews. “It’s getting better but we still have work to do,” she says.

Read more about the “21 Leaders for the 21st Century.”

March 2006

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