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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Look at the VA's Women Veterans Health Program

This month's featured article at the National Women's Health Information Center ("The Federal Government Source for Women's Health Information" and a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) is by Carole L. Turner, RN, MN, CNAA, and Director of the Women Veterans Health Program.

Entitled The Veterans Administration and the Women Veterans Health Program: Caring for a New Generation of Veterans, I've included it in full here for those interested in learning more.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

Re-printed in full here for educational purposes:

The July 17, 2006 issue of Business Week declared that the Veterans Health Administration's (VHA) health care system delivers the best medical care in America. The article praised VHA for its lower costs, higher quality and safety, and the computerized medical record system that allows data sharing among all facilities. The article goes on to say, "if you want to be sure of top-notch care, join the military." TIME magazine's August 27, 2006 issue reiterated that theme in "How VA Hospitals Became the Best." The VHA system—made up of 154 hospitals and 875 clinics—is the nation's largest health care system, providing care to millions of eligible veterans nationwide.

Another surprising secret about Veterans Administration's (VA) health care is the Women Veterans Health Program. Women are the fastest growing segment of eligible VA health care users. Women currently represent 15 percent of the active duty force, 20 percent of new military recruits and 17 percent of National Guard and Reserve forces. Presently women represent 5.5 percent or about 1.7 million of the 24.4 million veterans nationwide. This number is projected to increase to 10 percent by the year 2010. Women veterans account for about 1 in every 100 adult female patients in the United States today and the majority are seen outside of the VA health care system. Few clinicians, however, know about women's history of military service or the possible impact of that service on their physical and mental health or quality of life.

Women have participated in every conflict in the U.S., beginning with the War for Independence. Often disguised as males in those early conflicts, women have a long and distinguished record of service to their country and are now a vital and integral component of our military. In the current conflicts in Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom), about 10 percent of troops are women and they are exposed to combat conditions that earlier generations of women veterans seldom experienced.

Services for women in VA date back to 1982 when a Women Veterans Advisory Committee was appointed to address the inequalities for women veterans. The Veterans Health Care Act of 1992 allowed the VA to dramatically improve its programs for women veterans and move toward a goal of establishing state-of-the-art facilities and programs that focus on women's health. This helped create an environment that is warm, comfortable and private. The legislation authorized VA to provide gender-specific services and general reproductive health care and sexual trauma counseling to eligible women. It also authorized eight Comprehensive Women's Health Centers located in Boston, MA, Southeast PA, Durham, NC, Chicago, IL, Los Angeles, CA, San Francisco, CA, Minneapolis, MN, and Tampa, FL.

Services for women have steadily expanded and improved. VA has responded to the growing number of women veterans by targeting programs and facilities to meet their unique health care needs. Today, the Women Veterans Health Program extends to all VA facilities with comprehensive health care for women veterans as the rule, rather than the exception. The Women Veterans Health Program Strategic Plan guides efforts to ensure that women veterans receive the care they need. As part of the strategic planning process, the program identified and developed our mission and vision. The program mission is: Promote the health, welfare and dignity of women veterans, and their families, by ensuring equitable access to timely, sensitive, quality health care. Our vision is: Improve the health of the Nation by providing the highest quality services for all eligible women who served in the military. The strategic plan, now in its second five-year cycle, has produced outcomes that show success in the quality of care being delivered.

The Women Veterans Health Program provides a full range of medical and mental health care services, including:

* Preventive health screening
* Primary care
* Gynecology services
* Reproductive health care including maternity care and infertility evaluation
* Screening, counseling, and treatment for sexual trauma, substance abuse, post taumatic stress disorder and domestic violence
* Homeless programs
* Vocational rehabilitation
* Patient education
* Research

This most recent war has seen an unprecedented number of women experiencing the same situations as their male counterparts, not only in combat, but also upon returning home. They can face both physical and emotional readjustment. VA operates a variety of specialized outpatient post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) programs, including seven outpatient Women's Stress Disorder and Treatment Teams. Forty-four Returning Veterans Outreach, Education and Care programs were established in an effort toward early identification and management of stress-related disorders. The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has come to be viewed as a world leader in PTSD research. Current research is being done on the unique issues and behaviors specific to women deployed to a war zone so that VA can gear programs accordingly.

For the first time, VA is treating women veterans with multiple traumas, including loss of limbs and traumatic brain injury. These veterans, who most likely would have died in previous wars, face many challenges in their recovery. VA has established "polytrauma centers" to focus on the immediate rehabilitation of these soldiers located in Minneapolis, MN, Palo Alto, CA, Richmond, VA and Tampa, FL.

In addition there are 207 community Veterans Centers nationwide specializing in readjustment counseling for veterans. Started in response to the Vietnam war, many Veterans Centers now have a designated Global War on Terror (GWOT) outreach person whose job is to provide presentations to returning veterans regarding VA and Veterans Center services available to them (particularly counseling for readjustment issues, PTSD, and Military Sexual Trauma (MST)). These outreach workers are GWOT veterans themselves.

Unfortunately, a number of veterans, both male and female, have experienced sexual trauma during their military service. A program, originally established to treat women who were victimized, immediately identified that men have suffered this indignity as well. VA provides priority health services and mental health counseling and treatment for all eligible veterans who have experienced MST. It is important to know that MST counseling is available even if a woman did not report the incident when it took place.

VA is concerned about MST because any type of trauma can have lasting effects on physical and mental health. Trauma counseling can help veterans to better cope with a past experience of MST and to regain their confidence, self-esteem, and hopefully, improve their quality of life.

This MST program is but one example of improvements made as a result of the efforts of the Women Veterans Health Program that have also improved the quality of care for men. As another example, focus on improving privacy for women consumers has resulted in changes that have improved the environment of care for male veterans as well.

Every VA Medical Center has a Women Veterans Program Manager who helps women with establishing their eligibility, understanding their benefits, and getting their health care in the VA system. The VA Women Veterans Health Program continues to recognize the unique needs of those women who have served and strives to provide them the quality care that they so richly deserve.

For more information about the Women Veterans Health Program, please visit us at

Current as of November 2006

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