Fayetteville VA symposium addresses growing female veteran population
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: August 23, 2017
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — The changing face of the American military is causing ripple effects in the veteran population. And one of the biggest changes is the introduction of more female veterans to Department of Veterans Affairs care.
Since 2014, the population of female veterans receiving primary care at the Fayetteville VA has grown from about 5,000 to more than 8,000, according to Dr. Jauna Hernandez, chief of the VA’s women’s clinic.
To keep pace, the Fayetteville VA Medical Center and Southern Regional Area Health Education Center have hosted annual symposiums to refresh and educate health care professionals who serve female veterans.
On Wednesday, the two groups held the third such symposium at the VA’s Fayetteville Health Care Center.
The 8 a.m. to noon event included training on how to identify and screen for domestic violence, and assessing and treating depression and sexual dysfunction, among other topics. Hernandez said topics are largely based on what health care providers see most often at the Fayetteville VA.
She said the Fayetteville VA is adapting quickly to better care for its fast-growing female veterans.
In 2014, the average age of those veterans was 46. But several years later, she said, the average age of female veterans seeking care at the VA was down to 34.
One of the biggest impacts of that age change is that the Fayetteville VA is seeing more positive pregnancy tests than in years’ past — from single digits to 16 to 22 positive tests each month.
Hernandez said the VA now has a full-time maternity care coordinator in Fayetteville, something officials previously did not see as necessary.
Dr. Gregory Antoine, chief of staff at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center, said women are the fastest growing segment of the military, and the VA is adapting to better provide care for them once they leave military service.
“It’s the evolving face of the VA,” he said.
At Wednesday’s symposium, doctors presented information designed to refresh or enhance the knowledge of health care professionals, including doctors, nurses and others at the Fayetteville VA.
Dr. Vicki Hardy, who teaches allopathic and osteopathic family medicine at the Southern Regional Area Health Education Center, urged providers to be on the lookout for signs of domestic violence. One in five women experience violence at the hand of a current or former partner, Hardy said.
She said the abuse, which can include physical, sexual and mental abuse, can lead to chronic medical issues, emotional issues and acute physical injuries. Victims also are at an increased risk to be victims of homicide.
Hardy said all women of childbearing age should be screened for domestic violence. She provided examples of screening questions and urged professionals not to skip them.
“You have to be comfortable talking to patients about it and you also have to be compassionate,” she said. “That is our job — asking questions.”
Dr. Deon Faillace, who has been in general surgery practice in Fayetteville since 1987, said she has seen the military and now the VA change to cope with an influx of women.
“Women are changing the VA system,” she said.
Because of that, the VA needs to be more aware of the gender-specific needs of some veterans.
In the past, Faillace said, female veterans would be sent to Raleigh for some care. Today, the Fayetteville VA has its own specialized women’s clinic. Faillace said health care providers must be aware of specific needs of the female body, from mammograms and pap smears to testing for osteoporosis.
“Regular maintenance is required for our human bodies,” she said. “If it’s not right, get it checked out.”
Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.