New London – Cadets, civilians and military members sat intently listening to speakers at a health symposium in the Alumni Center Friday at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
The symposium, held in honor of Women’s History Month, was hosted by the local chapter for the Women’s Leadership Initiative, an official Coast Guard affinity group aimed at increasing the retention and success of women in the service.
Lt. Shirley Pilkey, the chapter’s co-chair, said she intended to give the audience a taste of the different topics the chapter could dive deeper into at other events this year.
Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz gave opening remarks and two separate panels on women’s mental and reproductive health were held.
The event’s keynote speaker was Dana Thomas, director of Occupational Health, Safety and Life for the US Coast Guard. Thomas gave a passionate and motivational speech about not being afraid to ask for help.
She said she hoped those listening to her talk would understand the importance of valuing their own opinions and not fall into a cycle of putting themselves down.
Since starting her position in 2019, Thomas said she has increased the number of mental health professionals across the Coast Guard from nine to 45. She said five new behavioral health nurses were starting this year.
At the end of her speech, Thomas spoke about her frustrations in reproductive issues such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade and its effect on various states. She added that there are strict laws that prevent the military from using federal dollars to pay for abortions unless the pregnancy is a danger to the mother.
But she said that does not include employees who have had to carry a child with no chance of survival.
Charlene Criss, a physician assistant at the academy, spoke during the reproductive health panel. She said she typically sees cases of iron deficiency in women in academia with longer and more frequent periods. She said the deficiency is made even more apparent by the physical demands of training.
Criss said the academy has a clinical outpatient department with primary care providers and clinical psychologists and psychiatrists. She said that over the past year and a half, the academy has worked to increase its care and has created a strong collaborative team.
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