Younger female veterans are more likely to be of reproductive age. Here, Marine Corps veterans Christine and Matthew Biffar, who have twin boys and another child on the way, at a baby shower at the Washington, DC, VAMC. L. Gale Bell, the medical center’s women veteran’s program manager, is on the right. VA photo

WASHINGTON—It’s been nearly six months since the House VA Committee launched its bipartisan Women Veterans Task Force, and the result is a legislative docket filled with bills geared toward ensuring VA has the resources it needs to care for the growing number of female veterans entering its facilities. That legislation includes a bill still being drafted that would move the Office of Women’s Health to a higher position in VA’s leadership model and having it directly report to the undersecretary for health—a move the VA does not support.

“Women veterans are the fastest growing demographic in the veteran population,” explained Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) at a House VA legislative hearing last month. “VA facilities must be built, retrofitted and staffed to keep up with that pace of growth. [All of these bills are to ensure] VA is maintaining environment of care standards wherever women veterans receive taxpayer-funded care, whether at a VA facility or a community care provider.”

The Office of Women’s Health provides programmatic and strategic support to help VA implement changes designed to better provide care to women veterans. Currently the Office reports to the Office of Patient Care Services, which is under the deputy undersecretary for health for policy and services. According to VA, moving the Office would negatively affect its ability to serve its mission.

“We believe that the current placement is strategically aligned to interact with all other clinical programs at the national level,” Teresa Boyd, assistant deputy undersecretary for health for clinical operations, told legislators. “[That placement] provides a conduit for coordination and collaboration.”
Veterans’ advocates argue that the move is needed, however, if the office wants to bring about significant improvement for women veterans’ healthcare.
“I think the Office of Women’s Health in VA has the direction, has the data and has much of what they need. They just need to be able to execute it, and I don’t think they have the authority at the level where the office is now,” explained Joy Illem, associate legislative director for Disabled American Veterans. “We would respectfully disagree [with VA]. I think this [move] would be key.”

Illem also noted that, with the MISSION Act, which is designed to increase veterans’ access to community care providers, VA will be instrumental in making sure those providers are properly trained to care for women veterans.

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