Is The Doctor In? Veterans Affairs Admits It Needs To Improve Its Women’s Medical Care

June 26, 2014  |  

Veterans are supposed to be honored by and receive care from the government. But it seems the Department of Veterans Affairs is slacking on its commitment to provide good healthcare to female veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them of child-bearing age.

The VA knows its failing. In fact, the head of the VA’s office of women’s health admits that there are “shortcomings remain in caring for the 390,000 female vets seen last year at its hospitals and clinics — despite an investment of more than $1.3 billion since 2008, including the training of hundreds of medical professionals in the fundamentals of treating the female body,” reports The Huffington Post.

Recently the Associated Press reviewed VA internal documents, inspector general reports and interviews and found:

—Nationwide, nearly one in four VA hospitals does not have a full-time gynecologist on staff. And even though the VA has a goal that every clinic would have a designated women’s health provider, about 140 of the 920 community-based clinics serving veterans in rural areas do not.

—When veterans are screened for breast cancer, more than half the time their mammogram results are not provided within the required two weeks.

—Female veterans of child-bearing age were far more likely to be given medications that can cause birth defects than were women being treated through a private HMO, according to a VA report.

“Are there problems? Yes,” said Dr. Patricia Hayes, the VA’s chief consultant for women’s health in an AP interview. “The good news for our health care system is that as the number of women increases dramatically, we are going to continue to be able to adjust to these circumstances quickly.”

Of course, the military is still predominantly male, but the number of women receiving care through the VA has more than doubled since 2000. And even as the total veteran population has been dropping, the female veteran population has been increasing year after year, according to a 2013 VA report.

While the VA typically covers all female-specific medical needs, except for abortions and in-vitro fertilization, the department has been trying to focus more on women’s health needs. It launched strategic initiatives, which developed from recommendations issued some six years ago. Among the issues are female veterans’ experience of sexual harassment, assault or rape in a military setting;  how to build prosthetics for female soldiers; and even installation of women’s restrooms at the more than 1,000 VA facilities.

Still often times, VA facilities can not provide the proper care for women so many–nearly one-third of all female patients– receive at least one day of treatment at a non-VA facility, according to 2012 numbers. Only 15 percent of men had to go to outside facilities.

Women’s healthcare may be lacking, but overall many complain about VA healthcare provisions. Recently a VA audit of its troubled hospitals and clinics found 100,000 veterans faced long waits for health care, and that system-wide clerks have been instructed to falsify dates in scheduling records, says NBC.

“We want to make it right for our veterans to have the best kind of care, and women are included in that goal,” Hayes added.

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