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Survey: Female vets frustrated with VA health care

WASHINGTON — Female veterans still face significant frustration getting medical care, even in Veterans Affairs facilities with female-specific services, according to a new survey released by the American Legion on Tuesday.

One in four female veterans said the availability of gender-specific health care was poor within the VA system, and more than half felt the sexual trauma services at those facilities were inadequate, according to the report.

Legion officials said those perceptions could discourage other females from using the VA system — or from seeking medical help at all.

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“Too many times, women veterans who seek help at a VA hospital are mistaken as civilian wives,” said Jimmie Foster, commander of the American Legion. “Too many people still think that veterans are men and not women.”

Legion officials noted that the 1.8 million female veterans in America today make up just under 8 percent of the total veteran population, but that percentage is increasing.

According to Defense Department statistics, women make up about 12 percent of the 2.2 million troops who have been deployed in support of the recent conflicts overseas. Females make up 14 percent of the current overall active-duty force.

Since 2001, 108 women have been killed in Iraq and 24 killed in Afghanistan, according to statistics from icasulaties.org. Defense Department officials said more than 750 women have been wounded in action in the two wars.

The Legion’s report surveyed more than 3,000 female veterans. In addition to the dissatisfaction found with other aspects of care, the research found that nearly one-third of female veterans surveyed were unhappy with the work of their Women Veterans Program Manager, assigned to VA facilities to deal with gender-specific issues and questions.

Verna Jones, director of the Legion’s rehabilitation commission, said the results show a combination of a lack of understanding about available services and a lack of awareness of women veterans needs at the veterans hospitals.

Foster said VA leaders need a culture change to address the issue, saying that the department has already begun outreach efforts but needs to speed that process.

“VA health care needs to be more reliable, responsive and competent in its treatment of women,” he said. “Women need to feel welcome, to feel comfortable, in any VA facility across America.”

VA officials said they’ve made efforts in recent years to address female veterans issues but acknowledged more work needs to be done. In a blog post last week, Patricia Hayes, the VA’s chief consultant for women veterans health, said officials recognize that more needs to be done in areas such as maternity care and sexual trauma response.

“Every time I see articles in the news or on the Internet about how something didn’t go well for a woman veteran I think about all the women veterans who need health care, who don’t have insurance or can’t find or afford care,” she wrote. “I want them to try VA. And I want them to know that we are working as fast as we can to make positive changes and will continue to improve.”

shanel@stripes.osd.mil

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