After 10 years of service in the Marines, Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas dedicated her academic career to improving veterans quality of life, from suicide prevention to her championing of healthcare for veterans. Her too short life was one of service, selflessness, and advocacy.
Kate began her career as a Marine Corps officer in 2002 and served until 2012. In 2005, she deployed to Fallujah where she served in the Provost Marshal Office (PMO), also known as Military Police.
As a Marine in one of the most hostile terrains of the Global War on Terror, Kate felt the pressure of being a young woman in a male-dominated environment. She took this adversity as an opportunity to go above and beyond as she truly loved being a US Marine.
Part of this entailed being in top physical shape. Every day, she would go running, unfortunately the best track was near the base burn pit. More concerned about IEDs and enemy attacks, she was not hindered by breathing in the thick, chemical-laden smoke of the pit. It was just part of everyday life there.
After leaving the Corps, Kate earned a PhD in health education and promotion. She then married and had a son. In 2015, she wrote her first book. More books followed with her research centering around veteran’s mental health and the experience of the female warfighter. She was living a fulfilling and fruitful life. Then, she was diagnosed with three different types of stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 38. With no family history, it was believed this diagnosis was linked to toxic exposure because of the burn pits.
Using her research background, she found a disturbing trend of breast cancer in post-9/11 female veterans. Young military women have a 20%-40% higher chance of developing breast cancer than civilian women. After years of difficult struggles while dealing with her illnesses, the VA finally stopped denying Kate’s claims and appeals. This took over three years longer than doctors originally expected her to live.
During the last few years of her life, she continued teaching at George Mason University. In 2021, she published her last book titled Stopping Soldier Suicides: Veteran Voices to Help Prevent Deaths.
She also routinely testified in front of Congress supporting the PACT Act. She also supported the SERVICE Act, requiring the VA to provide mammograms for all women who served in places associated with burn pits and toxic chemicals.
The week before her death, she was planning on attending a press conference in support of the PACT Act. On April 5th, 2022, she passed away peacefully surrounded by her loved ones. Her husband noted, “she accomplished more in this life than many do in a full one.”
On June 7, 2022, the Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas Supporting Expanded Review for Veterans In Combat Environments (SERVICE) Act, was signed into law. In her memory, it expands toxic-exposure eligibility for Veterans who served overseas.
No one would have faulted Kate for giving up, but she continued to fight. Despite it all, Kate set the example of how a leader should be. Future generations will benefit from the result of her unwavering spirit. We honor her by continuing to advocate for veterans, and fighting the good fight.