J. Marc Burgess, National Adjutant

Caring for our sisters-in-service

The growing diversity in our military’s ranks over the years means the face of the American veteran is changing. The benefits of diversity in our ranks are obvious. The variety of backgrounds cultivates a broader pool of experiences and knowledge that strengthens the group. The military is more representative of the citizens it serves. The call to serve becomes a compelling option for more people.

Diversity also brings to light the need to address the disparity in veteran care. One population segment we see this in is women veterans.

The number of women who join the military has dramatically grown over the years. They now make up nearly 19% of the total military force. Consequently, women are the fastest growing veteran cohort today and face challenges as they enter a Department of Veterans Affairs health care system that was primarily designed for men.

The VA, recognizing its antiquated care model, has stated that one of its priorities is to ensure it is a welcoming, inclusive environment for every veteran who uses its services.

With regard to care specifically for women, we’re starting to see steps in the right direction.

Examples include DAV-backed legislation such as the Making Advances in Mammography and Medical Options for Veterans (MAMMO) Act and the Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas Supporting Expanded Review for Veterans in Combat Environments (SERVICE) Act. These acts, which were both signed into law in June, address access to modern mammography services within the VA while expanding eligibility for those who get screened.

In this issue of the magazine, we take a deep dive into another law that addresses the VA’s services for women: the Protecting Moms Who Serve Act. This law codifies the VA’s maternity care coordinator program to help pregnant and postpartum veterans navigate their community care. It also calls for a study on maternal mortality and other severe pregnancy complications among veterans. The study will look particularly at service-related causes, including post-traumatic stress and military sexual trauma.

We also take a look at homelessness among women veterans and the challenges they face. Women experiencing homelessness are more likely to hide their situation. They often have children with them, and shelters don’t usually accommodate families. Many women veterans don’t report their veteran status or realize they’re eligible for VA programs. Instead, they seek help from other organizations, missing out on health care and other benefits they’ve earned from their service.

These challenges and others women veterans face as they navigate their transition from service to their post-military life deserve a spotlight.

What we do in response must not stop at research and studies. We fulfill the promise we make to all veterans with our actions.

DAV must continue to be a voice for women veterans and a fierce advocate for legislation that addresses this growing population, its care and its specific needs.

 

If you want to find out more about the National Adjutant, you can find his biography here.