ORLANDO, Fla. – Two local veterans are working to make sure no one who served in our armed forces is ever forgotten.
That’s because although they may be retired now, Lorraine Holland and Daila Espeut-Jones still live, breathe and sleep the United States Army.
“I never wanted to be seen as a woman, I was a solider,” said Holland.
“22 years long, 22 years strong. I served Uncle Sam,” said Espeut-Jones.
These days, instead of parachuting, loading guns or serving as combat soldiers, they serve in nearly a dozen veterans councils and organizations, working to make sure no veteran is ever left behind in any way.
“It is my job to reach out and touch each and every one, you know, of our veterans who are out there that needs help,” said Espeut-Jones,
“My only job is to help the veterans,” said Holland.
For her, it was a no-brainer to help other veterans, and a way to feel like she was making a difference.
“I had a husband until about 11 years ago, and I followed him around. He was in the British Army. So when he retired, we came here and then unfortunately, he passed away. And I was looking for purpose and meaning in my life,” said Holland. “And being a veteran, one of my girlfriends said to join the Military Officers Association. And I did. So for me, at that time I just really missed the camaraderie that we share with the military.”
Holland does a lot of work with the Military Officers Association of America. They’re advocates for all military, whether you’re on active duty, you’re enlisted, an officer, and we work legislation in support of military and their families.
“Our big push for MOAA this year is to get legislation, just like they did with Agent Orange for the Vietnam veterans, to cover the veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, to make sure that they get their VA benefits that cover for disability,” said Holland. “We’re going to be doing some town halls coming up this year to recognize not only the Vietnam veterans, but they’ve asked to recognize those veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq with the toxic exposure, the burn pits, so we’re gonna go full-fledge on town halls all throughout the state of Florida.”
In fact, Holland said she’s been part of studies for Gulf War veterans because there’s not that many women a part of them, and she wants to be able to help in any way she can. She does a lot of work that focuses on other female veterans.
“Women that don’t necessarily see themselves as a veteran, what we’ve discovered is a lot of them say, ‘Oh, I’m just a mother, now, I’m just a wife. I didn’t serve in combat.’ And we’re saying, ‘No, you served, you deserve these rights.’ So we’re trying to reach those women that just don’t seem to connect to be veteran, and make sure that they get the benefits they’ve earned, whether it’s through the VA or some other organization,” said Holland.
Holland was part of a committee that just finished a report examining issues female veterans face, like the lack of women’s’ health primary care providers at VA, lack of beds for female vets at homeless shelters, especially those with kids and a lack of tools, resources and information to help women transition back to civilian life, among other issues.
“There’s a lot of women that had military sexual trauma, MST. And they don’t want to come forward because they were so severely traumatized by it, that if they have to sit with an intake specialist to see if they’re eligible for disability, sometimes they would prefer to have women interview them. So now we’re looking at that also, do our veteran service officers, do we have enough women so that if they don’t feel comfortable coming forward and talking to a man to get their benefits?”
They’ve identified 14 issues and presented recommendations to resolve them. While she waits for that to happen, Holland works behind the scenes to connect any veteran she can with the help they need.
That’s also something Espeut-Jones does on the daily.
“My job, as the chair of the Orange County Mayor’s Veterans Advisory Council, is to use those vehicles, and the vehicles that I’m talking about, are the support organizations, the veteran organizations that are out there to bridge the gap between the military and their families to get them the help that they need,” said Espeut-Jones. “My goal for the veterans of Central Florida is to get the benefits that they so deserve by getting with like minded companies, again, like the company that I work for ZelTech, who supports veterans in the community, companies like JHT, companies like Lockheed Martin, for them to find employment, and also understanding the dynamics behind the Veterans Administration at Lake Nona, get them into Lake Nona so they can get their military benefits. There also educational benefits that’s out there. The goal, again, is to ensure that they understand that there are people out there who want to assist because there are several folks who do not have a college degree, and they have benefits that you know, they know nothing about that they should receive to go back to school.”
One of her biggest missions is education and spreading awareness.
“There’s so many veterans who are in just Central Florida alone, who know nothing about the benefits they deserve, and what’s coming to them,” said Espeut-Jones. “There are so many veterans out there who feel as though that even though they served those benefits, you know, are not theirs, because it should go to someone else. But the uniqueness about it is you serve that is your benefit. No one else can take that away from you.”
Espeut-Jones has also been honored for her work by being selected as one of the few females in the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame in 2020.
“It was an amazing feeling to be selected for the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame. And I am so grateful for being recognized by Judge Tina Caraballo,” said Espeut-Jones. “The goal is to ensure that others emulate what I am doing in the community. Yes, I’m being recognized for the good work that I’m doing. But I also wanted to ensure that other female veterans because we are the minority to see that, yes, we’re doing good in the community and be recognized for that because oftentimes, we’re left behind and we receive no recognition whatsoever. It does put a smile on my face every time I think about it, and I try to pay it forward by recognizing others who are doing the same type of work and even more in the community by recommending them for the same.”
It’s a lot of work both women say is never really done-- but they say they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s every single day, every single day, my phone rings,” said Espeut-Jones. “It is the right thing to do. It is called paying it forward. When I reach one person, you know, I can actually go to sleep that night with a smile on on my face, because I know that that veteran is one less out there on the streets.”
“I can’t tell you, I can’t put it in words, the satisfaction I get, seeing that, through me, I can affect other people and getting their benefits and having a better life and having a life that they’ve earned,” said Holland.
There are plenty of resources available to our local veterans, here’s a list of some of them: