Student and ranking officer doubles as care facilitator at Veterans Affairs hospital

Kristopher A. Fortin

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






First Lieutenant Leah McGowan said that she didn’t have much of a choice whether or not to go into the military.

‘My dad picked me up from work one day and dropped me off in front of two recruiting stations.’

Her father said, ‘Pick one, and I’ll pick you up later.’

She chose to go to the army. Eight years later, she is a month away from being promoted to Captain and a few semesters away from getting her master’s degree in social work at CSUN.

Currently she works full-time at Veterans Affairs West Los Angeles Healthcare Center as a care facilitator at the Mental Health Outpatient Treatment Center, and once to twice a month for the National Guard approving soldiers’ medical eligibility to be deployed.

‘I’m very proud of her,’ said Arvin McGowan, Leah’s father.

Born in New Orleans, she moved to Chicago with her parents at four years old. She was 14 when she became pregnant with her son Lejon. With the help of her parents, kids at her school never knew of her child and she stayed involved in school activities by playing the clarinet on the marching band and being the president of the drama club.

‘If I didn’t have my parents’ support, I wouldn’t have gone to high school,’ McGowan said.
She decided to join the army when her dad picked her up from the recruiting station. She joined with the intention to do work in psychology.

Her Army program required her to get combat and army medic training.

‘I’ve been a private in the dirt with an M-16 rifle on my birthday,’ McGowan said.

McGowan didn’t see any combat in her two years on active duty, but she finally was able to do psychology work with veterans. According to McGowan, that work involved giving mental status exams and running peer groups at Eisenhower Army Medical Center in Georgia. One thing she noticed in Eisenhower Medical Center and at the VA Medical Center, was how soldiers address each other in their ranks, even hospital while in hospital gowns.

She was accepted to UCLA after her second year of service, and received a scholarship that paid for her education and provided an early discharge. She continued to be involved in the military at UCLA through ROTC and climbed the military ranks while she pursued her bachelor’s in psychology.

McGowen commuted from Lancaster during the week, while her parents and her boyfriend at the time helped take care of her son.

McGowan takes on similar roles as a care facilitator at the VA Healthcare Center. Her main role involves social work and aiding homeless veterans.

McGowan’s former social work teacher, Wendy Ashley, said, ‘She has good interpersonal skills, she’s respectful of other students, she’s one to volunteer and take a risk at talking about thing that maybe aren’t so comfortable.’ Ashley added that McGowan has a great personality and is an optimist.

‘She is really authentic and genuine, and that’s important in this field.’

McGowan will be promoted to the rank of Captain in April and she said she hopes to continue working at the VA Medical Center for a long time.

Whenever she feels her job is getting too hard, she said she looks at The Washington Post’s ‘Faces of the Fallen,’ a running toll of soldiers that have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

‘It helps me reassure myself that my job is easy.’