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Women Veterans Hearing Held by Senate Committee

On April 21, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing, “Fulfilling the Promise to Women Veterans.” The hearing concentrated on the development and improvement of programs and health care services for women veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

“The number of women veterans enrolling in VA health care is increasing, placing new demands on a VA health care system that historically treated mostly men. There are more than 2 million women veterans in the United States accounting for more than 400,000 users of VA health care services in fiscal year (FY) 2014,” stated Patricia Hayes, chief consultant for Women’s Health Services (WHS), Veterans Health Administration. She continued, “WHS works to ensure that timely, equitable, high quality, comprehensive health care services are provided in a sensitive and safe environment at VA facilities nationwide. WHS programs include comprehensive primary care, women’s health education, reproductive health, communication, and partnerships…In addition to addressing women veterans’ health care concerns, VA is committed to working with our partner federal agencies to help transitioning female service members and veterans achieve strong economic outcomes through meaningful employment and suitable housing.”

“I didn’t think of myself as a veteran, and knew next to nothing about filing a disability claim or for which benefits I might be eligible. Today, many women who have served still do not readily self-identity as veterans,” stated Joy Ilem, deputy national legislative, Disabled American Veterans. She continued, “One of the most perplexing problems is a culture in VA that is not perceived by women as welcoming to them, and does not afford them or their needs equal consideration. VA’s own Women Veterans’ Task Force noted the ‘need for culture change across VA to reverse the enduring perception that a woman who comes to VA for services is not a veteran herself, but a male veteran’s wife, mother, or daughter.’” She concluded by stating, “We recommend that VA examine the role, responsibility, and impact of the Lead Women Veterans Program Manager on the Women’s Health Program and aggressively pursue staffing, culture, and organizational changes to ensure that experiences of women in the military are understood by health care providers and staff, that women veterans are treated with respect, and that they encounter a safe, welcoming environment as they seek VA services.”

The following witnesses also testified during the hearing:

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