Col. Mary Louise Milligan Rasmuson was the fifth commander of the Women’s Army Corps and oversaw the integration of the service. On Nov. 9, 2020, Operation Mary Louise, named in her honor, was stood up to enhance visibility and access to services for women veterans in Alaska. (Courtesy Photo / Rasmuson Foundation)

Col. Mary Louise Milligan Rasmuson was the fifth commander of the Women’s Army Corps and oversaw the integration of the service. On Nov. 9, 2020, Operation Mary Louise, named in her honor, was stood up to enhance visibility and access to services for women veterans in Alaska. (Courtesy Photo / Rasmuson Foundation)

Group seeks to improve support for women veterans in Alaska

Alaska has nearly 10,000 women veterans. Less than a third of them use services they’ve earned

Alaska and Virginia share the highest rate of women veterans in the country.

However, according to Operation Mary Louise, in Alaska, less than a third of those women use Veterans Affairs health services. Named after Col. Mary Louise Rasmuson, former commander of the Women’s Army Corps, the organization aims to improve access and recognition for Alaska’s women veterans.

“The purpose of this project is to increase the visibility in Alaska and to connect them with resources in Alaska,” said OML’s project coordinator Vanessa Meade in a videoconference announcing the debut of the organization. “Veterans don’t always like to go in and talk about their feelings. Sometimes there’s some barriers for services.

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The debut came on Nov. 9, Women Veterans Day in Alaska. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, as well as Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy all recorded videos for the debut of the organization, which is supported by the Rasmuson Foundation, the Alaska Community Foundation and the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“Women have a long and often unrecognized history of military service to our nation since the American revolution,” Dunleavy said in his recording. “Too often their sacrifice is ignored.”

Access to VA programs and services is made difficult for the state’s nearly 10,000 women veterans by lack of geographical access or proximity, Meade said. According to Monique Andrews, a resilience, risk reduction and suicide prevention manager with the Alaska National Guard, women veterans have higher rates of homelessness and sexual assault than their male counterparts. Women veterans also die from suicide at a rate of twice of non-military women, Andrews said.

“Her work fighting for the rights and inclusion of all women into the army is instrumental. It is so fitting we’re here continuing her legacy,” Andrews said. “Women veterans as they separate from service are asked to face unique challenges. It’s only 30 years since the inception of the women veterans healthcare program.”

Born on the East Coast, Rasumuson lived a remarkable life, speakers said. As head of the WAC, she was instrumental in integrating Black servicemembers into the service during her time as the director, according to the OML website.

Col. Mary Louise Milligan Rasmuson was the fifth commander of the Women’s Army Corps and oversaw the integration of the service. On Nov. 9, 2020, Operation Mary Louise, named in her honor, was stood up to enhance visibility and access to services for women veterans in Alaska. (Courtesy Photo / Rasmuson Foundation)

Col. Mary Louise Milligan Rasmuson was the fifth commander of the Women’s Army Corps and oversaw the integration of the service. On Nov. 9, 2020, Operation Mary Louise, named in her honor, was stood up to enhance visibility and access to services for women veterans in Alaska. (Courtesy Photo / Rasmuson Foundation)

Marrying civilian Elmer Rasmuson, she retired from the WAC to Anchorage, where she dedicated her life to philanthropic efforts, including the expansion of the Anchorage Museum, said stepdaughter Judy Rasmuson during the videoconference.

Resources and more information about the organization are available online at https://operationmarylouise.org/.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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