By Valarie Honeycutt Spears
FRANKFORT — Heather French Henry, a former Miss America and the wife of former Kentucky Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, said Monday that she would help “build support” for a military sexual trauma victim center in Kentucky.
Henry, who heads the Heather French Foundation for Veterans, said she would advocate for the center in talking to Department of Veteran Affairs officials and lawmakers.
She made the comments in Frankfort Monday after a news conference in which U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, announced he had introduced legislation that would allow military sexual trauma victims to select private health care providers.
Kentucky would be an ideal place to build a center because it has military hospitals in Louisville and Lexington and is home to Fort Knox and Ft. Cambpell, Henry said.
“We have one of the nation’s largest reserve and guardsman units here that is constantly deployed,” she said. “Kentucky knows and is very sympathetic to the veterans population, male and female.”
State Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said Monday the center could be called “Karen’s House,” after Lexington therapist Karen Tufts, who retired from the Lexington’s Veterans Affairs medical centers about three years ago and now treats clients on a private basis.
In October, the Herald-Leader reported that a group of military sexual trauma victims had asked Westrom and Barr to help improve military sexual trauma care at the Lexington VA.
Victims want a center, possibly at a VA facility in Louisville, that could be a transitional residence for women after they leave inpatient psychiatric treatment at the hospital and before they move into the community.
Barr’s legislation, also known as the Military SAVE Act, essentially would put military sexual trauma victims in control of their own care. A Department of Defense or VA staffer typically makes health-related determinations on behalf of the victim, but the bill would empower the victims to select the care they think is necessary for treatment.
“The VA is definitely strapped right now. Their resources are spread thin. They have a new generation of combat veterans … that are really taxing the VA system,” Barr said after the news conference.