What Women Want: Assessing How VA Meets Health Care Needs

by U.S. Medicine

August 1, 2011

With an influx of women veterans entering the VA system in higher numbers than ever before, the department has given women’s health care high priority. One step in addressing this growing population is assessing what women are looking for in a VA health-care experience.

A study recently conducted by VA’s Center for Comprehensive Access and Delivery Research and Evaluation (CADRE) looked at 1,002 VA-enrolled Midwestern women veterans to determine their preference and perceptions with sole or dual VA healthcare use.

The study found that both sole and dual (VA and non-VA) users were more likely to have served in a combat area, have a current diagnosis of PTSD and have generally poorer physical health than non-VA users, who were more likely to be married and have private health insurance.

Women veterans solely using VA healthcare were more likely to want to be given a choice of a male or female healthcare provider. Both sole and dual users thought VA provided adequate privacy and safety during outpatient exams, and urban women veterans were more likely to endorse gender-specific environments for care and waiting areas. Overall, women using VA care had more positive perceptions of VA than those not using care.

Mengeling MA, Sadler AG, Torner J, Booth BM. Evolving Comprehensive VA Women’s Health Care: Patient Characteristics, Needs, and Preferences. Women’s Health Issues. 2011 Jul-Aug;21(4 Suppl):S120-9. PubMed PMID: 21724131.

Women Veterans Reproductive Health Preferences

Another study looking at women veterans’ preferences focused specifically on their experiences with reproductive healthcare services. Through focus group analysis, researchers at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, CT, sought to characterize exactly what this patient population was looking for in reproductive care at VA.

Researchers conducted five focus groups with a total of 25 participants using a loose interview guide to elicit patients’ experiences and preferences with reproductive care at two VA facilities, then analyzed the transcripts of these sessions.

What Women Want: Assessing How VA Meets Health Care Needs Cont.

The women in the groups generally preferred VA women’s clinics for comprehensive medical care but had mixed reactions to VA’s reproductive care. Many had gaps in their knowledge about what kind of care was available at VA and perceived some kind of gender discrimination in their experiences with the department. They also believed that VA should provide additional coverage for advanced infertility care and for newborns.

Mattocks KM, Nikolajski C, Haskell S, Brandt C, McCall-Hosenfeld J, Yano E, Pham T, Borrero S. Women veterans’ reproductive health preferences and experiences: a focus group analysis. Women’s Health Issues. 2011 Mar-Apr;21(2):124-9. PubMed PMID: 21353978. 

Gender Comparison of OEF/OIF TBI Patients

Initial research has shown that men and women respond differently to combat injury, and TBI is no different. A population-based study conducted by the Women’s Health Sciences Division of VA’s National Center for PTSD looked at psychiatric diagnoses among OEF/OIF TBI patients of both genders and found significant gender differences in conditions and symptom severity following TBI.

The study looked at diagnoses and self-reported neurobehavioral symptoms in 12,605 OEF/OIF veterans evaluated for deployment-related TBI. Of these, 11,951 were men and 654 were women.

PTSD was the most common psychiatric condition for both genders, though women were less likely to have a PTSD diagnosis. However, women were twice as likely to have a depression diagnosis and 1.3 times more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorder. They were also 50% more likely to have PTSD with comorbid depression. According to researchers, blast exposure during deployment may account for some of these differences.

Iverson KM, Hendricks AM, Kimerling R, Krengel M, Meterko M, Stolzmann KL, Baker E, Pogoda TK, Vasterling JJ, Lew HL. Psychiatric Diagnoses and Neurobehavioral Symptom Severity among OEF/OIF VA Patients with Deployment-Related Traumatic Brain Injury: A Gender Comparison. Womens Health Issues. 2011 Jul-Aug;21(4 Suppl):S210-7. PubMed PMID: 21724143; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3132395. 

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