The unique health needs of female veterans are often overlooked in both military policy and public conversation. While veteran’s health is a frequent topic in the national discourse about health care, the level of care given to women too often falls short. Department of Veteran’s Affairs-run hospitals frequently lack sufficient services tailored to women, especially OB-GYN, prenatal care, and specialized women’s clinics.
Although they are still a minority, women make up a quickly growing cohort of the veteran population. The proportion of female veterans is projected to nearly double by 2043. Over 2 million female veterans live in the United States, all with guaranteed health care provided by the VA. But sadly, the level of care simply does not live up to the promise we collectively make to those who served in our country’s military. This group, while substantial and growing, is largely neglected in many facets of their health care services.
Also overlooked are the unique effects of military service on women. It’s not common knowledge, but research undertaken by the VA revealed that female veterans are more likely to have both mild and major depression, skin disorders and adjustment disorders than their male counterparts. Not just that, but pregnant Veterans in VA care were more than twice as likely as non-pregnant women veterans to experience depression, PTSD, and anxiety disorders.
The data makes it plain that women in the military suffer an inordinate amount of health issues. Unfortunately, there are still great deficiencies in the level of care they are provided. A comprehensive investigation by the Associated Press in 2014 revealed an unsettling number of shortcomings in women’s care. The percentage of female patients in VA treatment sent to outside care facilities was found to be more than double that of men.
The VA has not been completely inattentive to these issues. Their Women Veterans Task Force was established in 2011 to address these concerns and review the care given to women during and after their military service. The committee drafted and published a strategic plan based on their research and collection of data from female veterans. But in the end, it simply hasn’t proven enough, partially thanks to a shameful lack of funding.
An independent report written by Disabled American Veterans provided a more comprehensive set of guidelines. This report, titled Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home takes into consideration the need for the Veteran’s Affairs office to undergo massive cultural and organizational change in order to address the needs of their female membership, and provides 27 key recommendations to give a pragmatic idea of what needs to happen next.
A great problem facing women veterans is their presence in the public eye. It’s a sad fact that women often go unconsidered when we think of returning American military vets. A New York Times story on the issue quoted Air Force veteran and founder of Women Veterans of Colorado Kathyrn Wirkus: “Women vets come home and we blend back in. We go back to being mothers, wives, schoolteachers, nurses, doctors, whatever. We don’t hang out at bars wearing funny hats that say ‘World War II vet.’ We aren’t easily identified by our haircuts or the clothing that we wear. If I walked into a room, nobody would think I was a veteran”
The VA has shown that it is willing to address this issue. It’s plainly clear that government resources need to be allocated more effectively, and utilizing the DAV’s guidelines would be a great start. What needs to happen next is for the cultural conversation to accommodate all veterans, not just the most visible. They’ve given so much for us, it’s time we stepped up to address their needs.