Stacy Pearsall of Goose Creek knows the heat of battle and what it's like to be a wounded service member adjusting to life back home.
After earning the Bronze Star and honors as a combat photographer, she now focuses her efforts on helping women veterans at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.
On Tuesday, the White House and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will recognize her as a “Champion of Change.” Female veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn are being honored.
“When I got the phone call I was really shocked. There are so many other women veterans doing great things,” Pearsall said.
She supports the establishment of an independent women's clinic at the VA hospital, with its own entrance that offers gynecological and obstetric services as well as care for post-traumatic stress disorder and victims of sexual assault. Female vets now get treatment at various primary health care clinics at the medical center, she said.
VA hospital spokeswoman Tonya Lobbestael said the award is a great honor. “We're really excited about that recognition for Stacy,” she said.
Patricia Hancox, the hospital women veterans program manager, nominated Pearsall as a Champion of Change.
“She instantly came to mind,” Hancox said.
She admires Pearsall's courage in battle and her compassion.
“We're not a perfect system but we are always looking to improve. She really advocates for other women veterans. I think it helps her in her own healing and recovery,” Hancox said.
Like the women she assists, Pearsall is a VA patient. She is treated there for combat injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. During tours of duty in Iraq, she received head and neck wounds in 2003 and 2007.
“After being wounded in combat, I struggled to find my place in the world. It was my fellow veterans who lifted me up, and I owe them a debt of gratitude,” she said.
She received the Bronze Star for her actions helping rescue wounded soldiers. While an Air Force staff sergeant in 2007, she was riding in a convoy of military vehicles north of Baghdad when the lead vehicle struck an improvised explosive device. The convoy was ambushed.
Pearsall was a machine gunner while others raced to help the wounded. She was injured in the attack, the second time she had been hurt in action that started with an IED blast.
After retiring from the military for medical reasons, she became a patient advocate at the VA hospital. Pearsall was instrumental in the creation of the medical center Hall of Heroes. It features candid photos of veterans who are patients.
“That means a lot to the veterans,” Hancox said.
There are about 6,000 female patients at the VA medical center, she said.
Pearsall, 32, serves on the hospital Customer Care Committee. “I look at some critical things that need to be changed at the hospital and offer viable solutions,” she said.
She was twice named Military Combat Photographer of the Year. Her work has appeared in Time magazine, The New York Times, Popular Photography, Newsweek and on PBS and CNN.
She was a guest on “Oprah,” and she has published a book, “Shooter,” a visual portrait of war. Her new book, “A Photojournalists Field Guide,” will be released soon. She owns the Charleston Center for Photography where she teaches.
Her honors include a recent appointment to the advisory board of the National Press Photographers Association. She will receive an honorary doctorate from The Citadel at spring commencement exercises.
Pearsall is an advocate for the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program and a board member of the Foundation for Arts & Healing at Harvard University. She is a member of the American Legion and lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans.
Through those organizations, she gathers donated clothes and shower items for homeless veterans.