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VA Medical Facilities Welcome Women Veterans

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2006 – There was a time when women veterans didn't feel welcome at Veteran Affairs Department medical facilities, but the causes of such feelings have changed dramatically over the last few years, VA's top advocate for women's health said.

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Carole L. Turner, Veterans Affairs' national director for the women veterans health program, said VA's health care for women veterans has made dramatic improvements and now makes women feel welcome at VA medical centers. Department of Veterans Affairs
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"We're seeing a dramatic increase in the number of women veterans turning to VA for health care," Carole L. Turner, Veterans Affairs' national director for the women veterans health program, said. "And the satisfaction they're expressing about the health care they receive at VA is improving tremendously."

Turner said VA has a full continuum of comprehensive medical services, including health promotion and disease prevention and primary care. There is also women's gender-specific health care, such as hormone replacement therapy, breast and gynecological care, maternity and limited infertility treatments. There is also substance-abuse treatment, mental health, rehabilitation and long-term care.

"If a specialty isn't available in-house, VA will contract out with providers in the community," said Turner, a former Air Force nurse who has more than 20 years of VA experience.

Military sexual trauma treatment also is available, including counseling and treatment for any emotional or physical condition experienced as a result of sexual trauma experienced while on active duty.

Turner said women often seek treatment for "the same kind of health conditions that men experience -- diabetes, heart disease, orthopedics care, dental care." However, she added, women veterans also require certain unique health care services, such as maternity care.

There also are differences in the types of assistance services women seek from the VA. "Women who are homeless generally come with families or children," Turner said. VA has pilot programs for homeless women veterans with and without children at 11 medical facilities around the country.

VA also works to educate women on ways their health issues differ from men's -- for instance, how heart disease manifests itself differently in women than in men. She said VA is working with health care providers to ensure they're aware of and looking for signs and symptoms in women that they wouldn't ordinarily think are attributable to heart disease.

Turner emphasized that "all VA facilities aren't created equal."

"Some are very urban, highly affiliated academic teaching facilities, and some are very rural, kind of like a general-practice arrangement," she said.

But no matter what type of facility women visit, they're going to get quality breast care, either within the VA center or outsourced, she said. Studies indicate that newly diagnosed and treated breast cancer patients often suffer from such quality of life problems as insomnia, weight gain, chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety. "VA is very well equipped to help the social ramifications of disease," Turner said.

"The VA offers one-stop care for the majority of biological, psychological and social health care problems women might be experiencing," Turner said.

VA also has published privacy standards, particularly for treating women. Gone are the days when women didn't feel welcome at VA hospitals and voiced concerns about the lack of privacy, Turner said. "We also have waiting areas that are like subunits so women can wait separate and apart from men," she said. "The environment has been designed so women can bring their children, so they know that they're safe and secure."

Turner attributes much of VA's success in treating women veterans to women program managers who are advocates at every medical center. "They're there to help women veterans navigate the system," she said. "They try to ensure that the types of issues and concerns women might have about the environment or the care they receive are being addressed by staff and facility leaders who are sensitive to those needs."

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