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Veteran Affairs Expands Services for Women
In 2009 and 2010 post traumatic stress disorder, hypertension, and depression were the top three diagnoses for women Veterans treated by the VA. Cindy Niemack-Brown, Women Veteran Program Manager feels these issues are high in women because females versus males have a tendency to delay their health care over others, often complicating the underlying health care issue.
“As a licensed mental health practitioner and a woman myself, I know that women pride themselves on taking care of others rather than themselves. Often, women who have been deployed have higher readjustment issues and cases of depression because it can be challenging adjusting and integrating back into the role of mother, care giver, or wife,” Niemack-Brown said. “We hear women say that when they come back after being deployed they don’t get the same kind of support or acknowledgement that men receive and they feel isolated.”
Although women have served in the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War, serving in disguise or in non-combat capacities, it is only since 1901 when the Army Nurse Corps was established that women officially joined the military. Since then, opportunities for women to serve have steadily increased and as a result of the progress of the 1990s, women are now excluded from only 9 percent of Army roles.
As of 2009, the number of active duty women soldiers in the armed forces or in the National Guard or Reserves was more than 280,000. Today 8 percent of U.S. Veterans are women with the greatest majority having recently served in Iraq and Afghanistan where about 10 percent of active U.S. Forces there are women.
The Veterans Affairs, dedicated to serving the comprehensive needs of women Veterans, began providing medical and psychosocial services for women in 1988. Today, the influx of women Veterans, whose average age as of 2009 was 48 years, compared to 63 years for their male counterparts, presents opportunities to expand health care services to address the specific needs of women Veterans.
At each of the VA hospital and clinic facilities throughout Nebraska located in Omaha, Bellevue, Grand Island, Holdredge, Lincoln, Norfolk, North Platte, and Shenandoah, the Women Veterans Health Strategic Care Group works to ensure that timely, equitable, high-quality, and comprehensive health care services are provided in a sensitive and safe environment.
“Previously, women’s health at the VA was extremely fragmented,” Cindy Niemack-Brown, Women Veterans Program Manager for the VA Nebraska Western Iowa Health Care System said. “Before women vets might be seen in a clinic for their PAP, but then have a different primary health care provider. Strategically we decided to develop a designated women’s health primary care provider who has specifically chosen to do women’s health to provide all care for the needs of women so when they need care it’s not fragmented.”
Although the VA Medical Center’s long list of health care services for women include treatment for all the general care issues one would naturally assume a hospital would treat including disease prevention, health screening, treatment of chronic conditions, gender specific care, and a wide range of mental health evaluations and assistance, the VA Women’s Health Program also includes reproductive health care services such as infertility evaluation and limited treatment, maternity care, rehabilitation therapies, and programs to address issues of military sexual trauma.
Niemack-Brown says that the hard part is making sure women veterans know what health care services and benefits are available to them. She says that less than a fourth of women Veterans in general use the VA benefits and reports indicate that only 51.3 percent of women veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq have received VA health care.
“We’re doing a lot of outreach to Veterans to help them understand what services are available,” Niemack-Brown said. “A lot of it is education and being sensitive to other issues that may be present. We want women to be aware that the VA is providing comprehensive health care to females throughout their life span. Our mission is not only to facilitate the best health care, but find out what they want in regard to their health care.”
The VA Women Veterans Program is continuously adding to its list of services for women Veterans.
For more information about women Veterans health care, visit the women Veterans link at www.VA.gov or contact your Local County Veteran Officer.