Prudential employee Lucy Del Gaudio helped launch a successful grassroots campaign for a New Jersey law to recognize the contributions of women veterans.
As the Prudential Tower lobby filled to a standing-room only crowd, Lucy Del Gaudio greeted friends with a tight embrace, preparing to celebrate something they’d anticipated for 18 months—a day that recognizes women veterans.
New Jersey state officials, military service members, veterans, Prudential employees and the press gathered on Wednesday to witness Acting Governor Sheila Oliver sign New Jersey Joint Resolution No. 114 into law, establishing June 12 as Women Veterans Appreciation Day. At the same time, in Washington, D.C., U.S. Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., and U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., introduced a resolution designating June 12 as a national day of appreciation.
New Jersey is the seventh state to set aside a day of appreciation.
This is largely thanks to Del Gaudio, an Army veteran and program manager for Prudential Advisors. She launched a grassroots effort, working with friends from the New Jersey SOSVETS Stakeholder Group—which provides for veterans’ unmet needs—after learning how few services existed for New Jersey’s 26,000 female veterans.
“For decades, women have often been considered invisible veterans,” Del Gaudio said at Wednesday’s bill signing. “But we are your mothers and daughters. We are your sisters, grandmothers, partners and caregivers. We are your neighbors, your coworkers and friends. And with this resolution, we are no longer forgotten.”
Women have always served in U.S. wars, even disguising themselves as men in the Revolutionary War. Harriet Tubman served as a spy during the Civil War, while women famously joined the Women’s Army Corps in World War II. Finally, on June 12, 1948, President Harry Truman signed a law recognizing women as full members of the U.S. armed services. Today, women account for about 15% of those on active duty, 21% in the National Guard and Reserves, and are the fastest-growing group in the military.
Del Gaudio’s own story underscores the needs of women veterans. After graduating from Union City High School in New Jersey, she enrolled in art school. Unfortunately, after the death of her father, her family struggled financially and Del Gaudio dropped out to work for a local record store.
With one brother a Marine and the other in the Army, Del Gaudio opted for a military career and enlisted during Operation Desert Storm in 1990. She began as a Morse Code interceptor, then became an administrative assistant with top security clearance attached to a unit in Germany and deployed several times to Kuwait.
Instead of re-enlisting after four years, Del Gaudio transferred to the reserves after being a victim of “military sexual trauma.” She later sought assistance from the Veterans Administration in 1998 but found they "didn’t have the proper tools to help,” and that she eventually tried to control her stress with several medications. After a “massive anxiety attack” at work, she was eventually diagnosed with PTSD and says she has since found a holistic, prescription-free approach to manage her condition, aided by support at Prudential.
Del Gaudio says her experience—and that of many others—demonstrates that health services tailored for women veterans remain scarce. For example, she says the VA has no mammogram screening equipment in New Jersey. And though women are among the fastest growing number of homeless veterans, there are only 10 slots for transition housing for women veterans in the state—and none for women with children. Those issues spurred her to advocate for more recognition and support of women veterans, culminating in the signing of the resolution.
“I’m very proud of and admire Lucy for her advocacy on behalf of women veterans,” said Prudential Chairman and CEO Charlie Lowrey, who spoke at the bill signing and accepted an award from Oliver for the company’s support for veterans. “Prudential highly values the unique experiences and capabilities our veterans bring to our organization and communities. And we’re especially proud to focus on the contributions and sacrifices of women in the military as we mark the inaugural Women Veterans Appreciation Day.”
To get the resolution passed, it took Del Gaudio and her team almost as long as the two years it took for Congress to debate and enact the 1948 law.
“We did it!” Del Gaudio shouted with friends after Oliver signed the resolution. “I’m so proud of the many I worked with, not only to gain recognition of for our service, but to provide a voice to address issues we face that are uniquely different from our brothers in arms.”