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Don’t Call Me 'Mister': Report Says VA Needs Cultural Change in Women's Care
The draft strategic plan also calls for the VHA, VBA and NCA to “ensure they have sufficient ability to accommodate women veterans who request access to staff of specific gender.” For women with MST, as well as some of those seeking obstetric or gynecological care, having the opportunity to choose and consistently see a female physician or other medical professional provides great comfort, particularly in a space or facility set aside for women, according to the report.
|As women veterans from the North Midwest gather at the Veterans Affairs Medicial Center in Minneapolis last fall, Ruth Hedlund, a member of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services (Waves) National, enjoys lunch with a friend. The mission of the Minnesota Women Veterans program is to ensure women veterans have equitable access to federal and state benefits and services. Photo courtesy of Minnesota National Guard.|
A number of comments encouraged the VA to beef up OB/GYN services so that women could get appointments more quickly, particularly for pregnancy issues. This need has become more acute as the number of young women veterans has risen.
“In 2000, the age distribution of women showed two main peaks, the tallest one at age 44 and the second at age 76,” said Haskell. “By 2009, this pattern had shifted, with a much higher peak at age 47 and a second at age 85 — and a new one at age 27.”
For those younger women, reproductive-health services are critical. “We need to have an OB/GYN clinic instead of farming them out, with an ultrasound for pregnancies,” wrote poster JS. “It looks bad when we have to fee-for-service for these things, like we are not committed to them.” Others commented, however, that being assigned to an existing women’s clinic had reduced their quality of care, because the clinic was not run by a physician of either gender.
The draft strategic plan presents a women veteran-centric approach that goes beyond providing traditional women’s healthcare services and treats the whole woman more effectively. The Women Veterans Task Force notes that women who seek care through the VHA today are less likely to receive preventive-care services such as colorectal cancer screening, depression screening and immunizations and are more likely to be prescribed inappropriate drugs than men. Gender-based disparities also are seen in management of hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and diabetes.
To address these issues, the VA has trained more than 1,200 healthcare providers in basic and advanced topics in women’s health through mini-residencies and developed three models for comprehensive women’s healthcare. Those models include stand-alone women’s clinics, as well as co-located women’s clinics and integrated primary-care clinics. Women would receive all of their prevention, medical and routine gynecologic care from a single primary-care provider at a women’s clinic. A network of medical directors and program managers who coordinate care for women Veterans is in place in all 153 medical centers in the VA Health Care System.
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