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House Subcommittee Evaluates Veterans Health Services

On July 14, the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on several bills, including H.R. 423, the Newborn Care Improvement Act; H.R. 1356, the Women Veterans Access to Quality Care Act; and H.R. 2915, the Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act.

The Newborn Care Improvement Act

H.R. 423, sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), would allow the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand from seven to 14 days after childbirth post-delivery care services for women veterans receiving maternity care in a VA facility.

Speaking in support of the legislation, Ian de Planque, legislative director, The American Legion, stated, “The American Legion’s [2012-2013] System Worth Saving Task Force report…found several medical centers had challenges finding hospitals in the area that would accept fee-basis for maternity care services due to VA’s required use of the Medicare reimbursement rate. At other medical centers, fee-basis expenditures on women veterans’ gender-specific services were not even available.” Mr. de Planque continued, “The American Legion recommends that the business office managers be required to track women veterans’ gender-specific fee-basis expenditures. Furthermore, these expenditures should be rolled up by VA central office and disseminated to stakeholders and the public to better facilitate planning for future needs within VA.”

The Women Veterans Access to Quality Care Act of 2015

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), H.R. 1356 would establish standards to ensure that all medical facilities of the VA have the structural characteristics necessary to adequately meet the gender-specific health care needs of veterans at such facilities, including privacy, safety, and dignity.

Speaking in support of the bill, Rep. Coffman indicated that “the Government Accountability Office found in 2010 that none of the VA hospitals it surveyed were fully compliant with the VA’s own policies related to privacy for women veterans. Just to cite a few examples, the audit found that check-in desks were in busy mixed-gender areas and gynecological examination tables faced towards doorways. Additionally, despite VA requirements that gynecological exam rooms have immediately adjacent restrooms, often women were required to walk down long hallways in high-traffic, mixed-gender corridors to access restrooms.” Rep. Coffman further explained that his bill “[would] ensure the availability of OB-GYN services at VA medical centers and [would] require VA to conduct a pilot program to increase residency and graduate medical education positions.” He explained, “In 2010, nearly half of the women veterans who used VA health care had at least one reproductive health diagnosis. It is absolutely essential that these veterans have quick and reliable access to appropriate gender-specific care.”

The Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act

H.R. 2915, sponsored by Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA), would direct the secretary of VA to identify mental health care and suicide prevention programs and metrics that are effective in treating women veterans.

Speaking in support of the legislation, Carlos Fuentes, senior legislative associate, National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) stated, “As VA and Congress work to expand the availability of women-specific care at VA medical facilities, they must also focus on expanding research on the psychological and physical effects war has on women veterans. VA and Congress must make a concerted effort to understand any differences in the causes, symptoms, and treatment modalities between male and women veterans as they relate to mental health conditions and suicide. Without such research, women veterans may go unnecessarily undiagnosed and untreated for serious conditions.” Mr. Fuentes continued, “In addition to identifying mental health programs with the highest patient satisfaction and health outcomes among women veterans, VA must also work to implement successful programs and adjust existing women veteran programs.”

The following witnesses also testified:

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