Sandra Robinson-Wilson is an amazing woman who is currently running the nonprofit Combat Female Veterans Families United. Their office is a part of New Garden Park, and is located across the parking lot. She and her husband Bruce are members of Church of the Redeemer, and she graciously agreed to share how God led her to founding this amazing nonprofit, and how he has been paving the way ever since.
Several years ago, Sandra was working at the VA as a nurse. As she met with and cared for her patients, she began to hear stories from female veterans that stirred a place within her that had been silent since 1991. See, that year, her own military unit was deployed to Saudi Arabia for 5 months. She left nursing school at East Carolina University for her 5-month deployment in a combat zone, and then was simply told to return to school when she got back. “I went to war in a combat zone, and we were told to silence our traumas. You don’t talk about it – what happened to you, what you’ve seen.”
All veterans returning from war have great needs, but women have different and unique needs from the men. Challenges are more intense – not only do they struggle with PTSD from combat trauma, but also from military sexual trauma where a group of 400 men and only 12 women out in the desert can be difficult (to put it lightly). Sandra served over 20 years ago, and had never identified with being a veteran – didn’t even talk about it. Working as a VA nurse and seeing that still happening, she thought, “Wow. Women still don’t talk about it. Why don’t we share our stories?”
One day when she was working, she saw a call to all VA employees to apply for a grant for “innovative programs” on serving the veteran population. She decided to write out a grant for support groups for combat female veterans (all combat support groups at the time were unisex). She was the first nurse to ever apply for a grant there, and became the first nurse to ever receive it. “Seeing the needs, and having my own history, I saw the gap. There has been a huge increase – 300,000 who have gone and returned – of women who have been deployed to combat zones. There is no sensitivity in their post-war care, and it simply isn’t geared for them.”
36 women attended Sandra’s pilot program – the largest known attendance of women in a support group in any VA in the nation’s history. VA hospitals are kind of like the Greensboro Coliseum, but with different clinics scattered around a large common space. Only one clinic is for women only (the women’s health clinic), and again the overwhelming number of men present in the large common areas nearby often creates additional difficulties for women seeking care. The VA wanted Sandra’s program to continue, but it was not able due to unforeseen challenges.
Sandra felt that God had closed this door and was feeling very upset about it. She was attending a Bunco night in her neighborhood (the first time she had gone in a while) when a woman named Gail came up to her and asked what was going on. After hearing about her program at the VA and her sadness that it couldn’t continue, “She told me that I could do everything I wanted to do with a nonprofit. She said she had a nonprofit herself and would help me create my own.” She got started on the paperwork right away and Combat Female Veterans Families United was created in 2017.
The nonprofit focuses on transition, education and advocacy. Guilford county is the 3rdlargest area in NC for both female veterans and veterans in general. CFVF United is the only organization in the county that is geared specifically to females, whereas cities with the top 2 largest populations of veterans (Raleigh and Charlotte) both have 5-10 female-oriented veterans nonprofits.
The God of comfort and peace is caring for his people through Sandra and her organization. She quit working as a nurse in the summer of 2018 and volunteers full-time with the nonprofit – with Bruce taking on a different job in order to support her. The organization has since been chosen for many grants and was chosen for the National Military Women’s Coalition steering committee, and Sandra has been asked to speak and represent female veterans in news interviews, national celebrations, and more. Just recently Secretary Larry Hall asked her to speak at NC’s first ever Military Spouse Appreciation event on May 10.
We are so excited that we have the privilege of partnering with Sandra and her nonprofit through The Abbey, and are extremely blessed to have her and Bruce as a part of our family! The Lord is glorious and mighty and his works are so good!