Female veterans struggle with VA medical care
Many Veteran Affairs centers lack adequate medical services for female soldiers returning home from military duty.
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More women than ever are returning home from military duty, but many Veteran Affairs centers don’t have adequate services for womens' health.
In Martinsburg, West Virginia, Ann Brown, director of the city's Veterans Affairs Medical Center, has seen the number of veterans being treated doubled.
Retired Marine Capt. Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women's Action Network, says the VA has a ways to go in improving services for women.
"Even though we've got almost a quarter of a million women veterans from just OEF, OIF, Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, the culture of the VA has yet to catch up to those numbers," said Bhagwati. "There's still a shortage of female physicians, female counselors, military sexual trauma counselors, PTSD groups that are gender specific -- PTSD that's related to combat or to military sexual trauma."
Brown says her VA center is addressing some of the issues Bhagwati listed, and also adding other services.
"Some of the things we're adding that hasn't been provided is one location for females to come to receive their primary care and their mental health care," said Brown.
According to Brown, some of the gender-specific services the location provides are bone density scans and colposcophy services, and it is looking into providing mammography and obstetrics services in the future.
Many women veterans don't seek treatment at VA hospitals, says Bhagwati, due to the difficulty of navigating the male-dominated VA system.
"For a lot of women who have been traumatized by the military, so whether they've experienced sexual harrassment discrimination or sexual assault ... just the idea of entering a VA hospital is traumatizing. So often what happens is simply the idea of having an appointment will trigger a traumatic episode. Only 15% of women veterans are using VA hospitals."
Her own experiences as an officer in the Marines provided Bhagwati with first-hand knowledge of the difficulties female veterans face.
"I chose to use the VA about 2 years into my transition as a veteran and was extremely traumatized," said Bhagwati. "It's like running a gauntlet just entering the lobby: You sort of go through this sea of Vietnam-era veterans who, again, are not used to seeing the numbers of women in the military. So there’s this cultural issue and a generational issue, but you know, the cat-calling, being called 'honey', 'darlin' ... again, this is hit or miss, some hospitals are better than others. But it’s not just a patient to patient issue. The larger problems I have are with administrative and medical staff who, again, simply don’t understand that women are in the military."
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