We can improve VA health care to meet needs of women
By SENS. JON TESTER AND JOHN BOOZMAN | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: June 4, 2019
Women have always played an essential role in our nation’s military, and that role has steadily increased in recent years. In fact, the Department of Veterans Affairs now serves more than 750,000 women and the number of female veterans accessing VA health care services has tripled over the last two decades.
Yet 52 percent of female veterans believe they are not entitled to, or eligible for, VA care. Statistics and experience show that female veterans face significant challenges in communities across the country. Female veterans are also twice as likely to die by suicide compared to their nonveteran peers, and they are less likely to feel safe in homeless shelters even though as many as one in four female veterans report being homeless at some point in their lives.
This troubling reality should leave us asking two questions: Why aren’t female veterans getting the care they need and deserve when they return home from war? And what can be done about it?
As senators from Montana and Arkansas — states with a high proportion of veterans — we are tackling this issue head-on.
That’s why we reintroduced the bipartisan Deborah Sampson Act, landmark legislation that aims to support female veterans across the country by eliminating barriers to VA health care services for women.
This bill takes a comprehensive approach toward improving services for female veterans and their families by expanding access to group counseling and call centers, and increasing the number of maternity care and gender-specific providers in VA facilities. It also authorizes critical grants for organizations supporting low-income female veterans and increases resources to reduce female veteran homelessness.
Our bill also requires VA to track female veterans' utilization and experiences to learn from shortcomings in the system and puts in place strong leadership at the Center for Women Veterans, which advocates for female veterans and women in the military and raises awareness of the obstacles they face.
We’re encouraged that even in today’s partisan climate, passage of the Deborah Sampson Act is something both sides of the aisle agree is critical. Our bill has received overwhelming support from Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike. It is proudly endorsed by veterans’ service organizations representing millions of veterans across the country, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Disabled American Veterans.
Congress has a duty to ensure the VA is holding up its end of the bargain to the women who have sacrificed so much to keep us safe.
So we are redoubling our efforts to boost access to comprehensive health care for the growing number of female veterans who have earned the very best care available.
Ensuring they get the health care and benefits they deserve is the least we can do to repay the sacrifices of the women who have courageously served this country.
Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, is ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. John Boozman, an Arkansas Republican, also serves on the committee.