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House Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Women Veterans’ Health

On March 3, the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on several bills, including H.R. 1211, the Women Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act.

Sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD), the bill would authorize $4 million to require the secretary of Veterans’ Affairs to study the “barriers to the provision of comprehensive health care by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) encountered by women who are veterans.” Among the barriers the study is directed to research are access to child care, the “perceived stigma associated with seeking mental health care services,” and the perception of personal safety and comfort of women veterans.

The bill would authorize $5 million for the VA to conduct a comprehensive assessment of women’s health care programs, including “assessments of specialized programs for women with post-traumatic stress disorder, for women who are homeless, for women who require care for substance abuse or mental illnesses, and for women who require obstetric and gynecologic care.” A two-year pilot program to provide child care to veterans receiving health services also would be established. The bill would authorize $1.5 million for FY2010-2011 to carry out the pilot program.

Rep. Herseth Sandlin testified on behalf of her bill, saying, “As of October 2008, there were more than 23 million veterans in the U.S…There are increasing numbers of women veterans of childbearing age. For example, 86 percent of OEF/OIF [Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom] women veterans are under age 40…The VA must ensure adequate attention is given to women veterans’ programs so quality health care and specialized services are available equally for both women and men. I believe my bill will help the VA better meet the specialized needs and develop new systems to better provide for the health care of women veterans especially those who return from combat, who were sexually assaulted, suffer from PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder], or who need child care services.”

Joy Ilem, assistant national legislative director of Disabled American Veterans (DAV), said, “Mr. Chairman, this comprehensive legislative proposal seeking to access, improve, and expand VA services for women veterans, is fully consistent with a series of recommendations that have been made in recent years by VA researchers, experts in women’s health, VA’s Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, the Independent Budget, and DAV….Therefore, we fully support H.R. 1211 and urge the subcommittee to recommend its enactment.”

Ms. Ilem’s testimony and support for H.R. 1211 was echoed by Eric Hilleman, deputy director of the national legislative service for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who said his organization “applauded” the goals of the bill.”

Also testifying were Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA); Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA);Gerald Cross, principal deputy under secretary for Health, Veterans Health Administration, at the department of Veterans Affairs, Joseph Wilson, deputy director of the Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission at the American Legion; Todd Bowers, director of Government Affairs for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America; and Julie Mock, president of Veterans of Modern Warfare, Inc.

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