On Feb. 17 U.S. Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Women Veterans Access to Quality Care Act. The act will provide a framework for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to better serve the population of 2.3 million women veterans, a number expected to rise since women now comprise 15 percent of the U.S. military’s active duty personnel and 18 percent of the National Guard and Reserves.
Over the last several years, the VA has incorporated many programs and initiatives aimed at improving access to quality care for women veterans. During this time, research into women’s health issues has yielded a sharper focus on the needs of this population.
In 2007, the Women Veterans Health Program was elevated to a Strategic Health Care Group within the Office of Public Health and Environmental Hazards, allowing the program to increase its reach to include all services provided to women veterans.
The result was greater access to equipment and supplies, including mammography machines and ultrasound equipment, and proper training of staff in women’s health. In August 2012, a reorganization in the administration changed the program’s name to Women’s Health Services and further broadened its scope to allow collaboration between it and other medical programs such as mental health and specialty care.
The Women Veterans Access to Quality Care Act considers elements already in place for women veterans, but goes further in its mission to ensure that every VA medical center has a full-time obstetrician and/or gynecologist, is able to analyze women’s health outcomes in the same manner as they do men’s, can meet privacy standards specific to gender, and provide high quality preventative and clinical care equal to that provided to male veterans.
Senators Heller and Murray saw a need for this legislation when it became obvious the military’s demographic was changing and it was important for the VA to adapt to these shifts in order to still serve our nation’s veterans well, especially now that a significant number of them included women.
Of the act, Senator Heller focused on the right of women vets to the healthcare they deserve when he said, “There are countless distinguished women veterans who made sacrifices beyond measure and deserve nothing but the best treatment. I … am proud to introduce this bill with Senator Murray to give women veterans the respect they deserve by helping to ensure their healthcare needs are met.”
Senator Patty Murray echoed the sentiment. “As more and more women come home from serving our nation, we owe it to them to make sure they can access safe, comfortable, and high-quality care at their local VA clinics.
Women veterans have specific health care needs that the VA must be able to meet, and this bill provides the Department with the tools and resources they need to continue making progress and providing our women veterans with the care and support they deserve.”