State of Women Veterans: VA women’s health care more proactive in some areas of care than private sector


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When I left active duty in 2005 and walked into a VA Medical Center for the first time, I wasn’t sure I belonged. I saw few other women, and it didn’t feel terribly welcoming. For the next decade or so, I stuck with private sector providers covered by insurance. Last year, I came back into the VA system – and am incredibly glad.

In the private sector, my primary care physician, gynecologist, and psychologist couldn’t see the same electronic medical record, so it was up to me to remember and communicate details about the care I was getting in other settings. Same with information about laboratory test results and medications: my records were scattered in multiple systems that weren’t interoperable. Even if other providers or services were in the same building, they didn’t always take my insurance, so I always had to worry whether procedures or tests would actually be covered or if I’d be left holding the bill.

Within VA, I actually get comprehensive and integrated care from a team. All my providers have access to my records, and they can easily collaborate if needed. I’m also confident that I’ll be getting high-quality, culturally competent, evidence-based care, even on gender-specific measures: in fiscal year 2014, 88 percent of VA patients get cervical cancer screenings versus 74-76 percent of patients in the private sector and only 60 percent of Medicaid patients. When it comes to breast cancer screening, 86 percent of VA patients get mammograms when recommended compared to 69-74 percent in the private sector.

Culture Change Campaign for Women Veterans

VA has engaged in culture change campaigns to ensure all Veterans are treated with dignity and respect.

The number of women Veterans using VHA health care has more than doubled since 2000 to more than 500,000, and VA has been working diligently to better meet our needs. Comprehensive health services available to women Veterans today include primary, specialty, hospice/palliative, mental health, infertility, gynecology, and maternity care services, including seven days of newborn care. VA has trained over 3,000 designated women’s health providers through national Women’s Health Mini-Residency programs.

VA has also done research on the barriers to care that we face so we can work to overcome them. As a woman Veteran patient and as a VA employee, I know we have further improvements to make – to give one small example, it annoys me when clerks checking me in call for “Mr. Williams” or assume I’m there as a spouse and not a patient. Know that we have heard these concerns and are engaged in culture change campaigns to ensure all Veterans are treated with dignity and respect.

VA has also continued to roll out additional programs to ensure women Veterans get the best care. Here are two examples:

Maternity care coordination

In response to the increased number of women Veterans of reproductive age receiving care at the VA, a new role was created in 2012, the maternity care coordinator. VA currently has 129 maternity care coordinators (MCCs) who serve pregnant women Veterans in 141 health care systems and medical facilities nationwide by developing relationships with a variety of VA providers and offices as well as non-VA community providers and following pregnant women Veterans throughout pregnancy and into postpartum.

One 100 percent service connected female Veteran wrote to her local VA about her coordinator:

“I don’t know what I would have done without her by my side during my last pregnancy, but I can say it was miserable before she came along. My MCC is such an amazing person with so much dedication for what she does. … I am truly grateful for her position in the VA. She is the perfect match for the job. She has been such a blessing and made my second pregnancy much easier to handle with confidence from her help. I truly appreciate everything she has done for me and I am so thankful for her liaison services were put into this position. My MCC is a true asset to Women’s Health and the example for what a patient liaison service is all about.”

Pain management

image of pain management poster depicting a woman performing yogaThe Phoenix VA has recently started an eight-week mindfulness-based group training program for pain management that is specifically tailored to the needs of women Veterans. Participants receive a 90-minute orientation that covers the differences between acute pain and chronic pain, validates the many adverse impacts of chronic pain on women’s lives, and provides education on mindfulness as an approach for enhancing function and quality of life despite pain. The “Breathe, It’ll Be OK” program is based on years of clinical research and practice regarding chronic pain, mindfulness-based approaches for chronic pain, and women’s health. It includes a focus on social relationships and unit support, as well as stretching, movement, self-pacing, control, and acceptance. A focus on training draws on Veterans’ military background to underscore the importance of developing a regular practice of mindfulness.

One participant said:

“I feel like I have a new lease on life. I’m 69 years old and have been living with chronic pain for over 40 years, as well as a history of trauma/MST. Since going to acupuncture at your clinic and being a part of this group and experiencing fellowship here, I’m looking at my upcoming birthday and thinking I have a new chapter to write.”

Need help getting access to VA health care? Contact the Women Veterans Call Center at 855-VA-WOMEN – it was created to provide women Veterans access to services for which they may be eligible and is staffed exclusively by women.

This is the seventh blog in an 11-week series on the State of Women Veterans. Visit the campaign page to read other entries.

 

Author

Kayla Williams

– Kayla Williams is the Senior Advisor, Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs (OPIA), performing the Delegable Duties of the Assistant Secretary, OPIA.

Comments

  1. liz    

    While I am glad to read all your positive remarks and Kudos to Ms Kayla Williams; I am a Vietnam Veteran AND a Disabled Veteran who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and the Iraq War. I have not had the Warm and Fuzzy meet & greet that this Officer earned for serving and treating this Great Nation’s Pilots, Soldiers & Sailors. I too suffered PTSD among other physical injuries. While at the VA facility I was the victim of a sexual harassment, this was neatly swept under the rug to protect the VA; and I have been “encouraged” to purchase my own Health Plan. I am a 100% disabled Veteran. I have written an e mail to Ms. Kayla Williams asking for her assistance with Female Program/Advocate and have never had a reply.
    I have joined LeanIn -a Veteran Women’s support on Line group that helps and they directed me to this website for updates.
    While I have contacted their Hotline Phone #; I have had no response. Ms. Kayla Williams, do you read these responses, do you read your e mails?

    1. Kayla Williams    

      Liz,
      Thanks for reaching out. We will contact you via the email address you provided.
      V/R,
      Kayla

  2. Kathleen Kehagias    

    I have been in the VA medical care system for about 15 -20 years, in Ohio and, for most of that time, in Florida. I have nothing but positive things to say about my experience as a veteran and as a woman receiving treatment through the VA. I appreciate the outstanding care that I received and appreciate the thorough and complete treatment.

  3. Cathy Santos    

    And, how far we have come is short of where we actually must go to realize equality for all women among the ranks. Thank you Kayla, and B Marshall whose passionate remarks are reflective of many women who don’t have the platform to connect their efforts promoting the failed system where they sought to have their issues addressed. There are many advocates from before and I am grateful and that I had their shoulders to stand when I testified before Congress in 1993 to the House of Representatives Veterans Affairs Committee on Women Veterans which did result in their being a legislative mandate to facilitate every Veteran’s Hospital in the country with women specific accommodations for addressing their health care needs.

    My name is Cathy Bennett-Santos and I am the only reported woman victim to military sexual traumas, which was investigated by the Pentagon under a 15-6, and was “FOUNDED”, while I served on active duty. This predicated the efforts to become visionary and founder of the first nationally recognized organization for women of the armed forces who are victim to sexual assault, harassment and other related traumatic experience: National Alliance of Women Veterans, Incorporated is a Pennsylvania Chartered organization and celebrates 10 years this year and is based in Philadelphia – we have plans to honor women veterans and women of all areas of profession and expertise who have demonstrated an interest in support of our issues and cause across the country.

    Since, I have endured retaliation and harassment among threats and actual occurrences where domestic terror takes on another role in our society. As a military woman I stood, for over 20 years and today I am proud that we can share among thousands of women, the stories of military experience that unites us for strength and peer to peer support needed for healing and wholeness. We’ve come a long way, baby!!!

    One of our greatest challenges is the VISN which has not advanced its knowledge or research outcomes for inclusion as it relates to race, religion, culture and other needed diversity and competence for service to our most deserving. “African American women who are raped are treated differently” continues to plague women of color as the most disadvantaged of all women among the ranks which is unacceptable and must be addressed. The platforms for inclusion in the specific issues facing women are not accessible or respected for impacting those decision makers. The integrity is compromised by second and third hand knowledge when women veterans are an intelligent and capable population for articulating their specific issues; and more importantly, should be recognized and respected for their voice and advocacy which ultimately affirms their experience.

    I have written a memoir and hope to have respect of the women veteran’s community for educating and empowering women among the ranks.

    Thank you for your service to our nation and know that someone is fighting for you, and you’re not alone! Please visit our website http://www.nawvphilly.webs.comand connect us on social medial @Phillyvet

  4. Magnolia Sander    

    Thank you for being there and published this article. I am a female Veteran and I too have some mix feeling about the continue care of all females.
    I feels that some of us female Veterans does not get the proper treatments for mental health issues as the male Veterans.

  5. Judy Dubour    

    Per B Marshall, you are so right of what you wrote. I remember when I completed my final item on my checklist in the Air Force in 1992. When I entered the VA building I felt that I didn’t belong either. The building was so cold and uninviting. I had to ask 3 people where do I go to see Dr Xxxx for my appointment before I was directed to the right area. I will said that Dr Xxxx was nice and did give me some information that I needed. I’ve not been back to a VA Hospital since. I did go to the VA Clinic for several years in the town I live at now. I was satisfied and happy with all that was there at that time. Then the VA Clinic moved to a new building and my experience there was not satisfactory as before. I also had to pay for my services then as my insurance (at that time) didn’t cover my checkup or test. I may try to go back to the VA Health Care System in 2017.
    But as B Marshall stated, THANK YOU to the Female Vets that stuck it out to have a voice in the VA System. And Thank you B Marshall.

  6. Angela Hamon    

    Amen B Marshall. Thank you for your service. I too remember the days when I was told women did not belong at the VA medical center. It made the rating process take a decade or more. The VA has improved so much it is mind boggling.

  7. B Marshall    

    If Kayla Williams saw few women in 2005 and felt unwelcomed in 2005, then imagine walking into a VA facility as a female veteran in 1984. Please … The women veterans of today have no idea of what it was like at all. I do. There was no such thing in the VA’s imagination as assistance for female veterans, much less a clinic for women’s health. Rarely, were women taken seriously or even rated equally with male veterans for the same disability. This I know. The many female veterans of the past years (1960, 1970, & 1980), who fought the VA for many years for so much of what current women veterans take for granted now or believe they fought for. You did not. Give credit where it is due … To ALL the women veterans who walked through the doors of VA Clinics and Hospitals and fought for the changes, benefits, and equality you now enjoy. When you see one of us, and you will, remember we are not invisible. We made YOU visible in a system that once was primarily for male veterans. A thank you will suffice.

    1. marianna chowanec    

      Hi, My name is Marianna…I was in the Army for 75 to 78 in Germany…while there..on guard duty..thay had us take our break and go sleep in a funk bed..me and a guy…not only within about 3 minutes the next thing i had was a co-soldier jumping bon top if me ripping my shirt open and saying oh your husband will never find out..I fiercely fought him..by kicking him in the right place and ran back to the 593rd barracks and reported to to OIC..the next morning the called us all in the commanders office..I was pulled over to the side and they whispered in my ear..u know he is away from home and is lonely..they didn’t care that i as a 19 year old virgin..how about that!!!! and that was so mortifying to me..they treated me so badly..just push it under the table basically..I hate that we don’t have that camaraderie that the Vietnam Vetss have..we cant join any of the serve clubs because we were not at that time allowed to go to vietnam,…I would of went…I ver hear the vets talking trash about the girls sometimes at the VA…that they were good just for one thing…how horrible for us..no respect….only now have I gotten some respect…oh and the guy that tried to rape me had the nerve to say that I hurt him when i kicked him…it was a very bad time..and sad cause you had no one to talk to in the 70’s…oh well…lot os things I have kept in my head,,I do have ptsd..I do have nightmares of being raped….so, my heart goes out to the female veterans that have been pushed away and swept away under the table..funny cause when I was in Germany..I;d have to say that almost all of the vets were high on the weekend..on hashish. liquid speed..acid…I use to think wow..if anything bad very happened would I be the only on in their right mind…lots of bad things did happen…but as a safety mechanism i buried it in my mind…unfortunately it started all pouring out of my mind once I went through a bad time in my life with my om dying and being held responsible for her bill….Mu heart goes out to all of you..Thanks for being strong….jsut coming forward is a huge step!!! Marianna Chowanec

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