Major women veterans legislation passed the House of Representatives 399-11 on Nov. 12, moving it one step closer to becoming law. The historic Deborah Sampson Act—H.R. 3224—addresses inequities and barriers that women veterans face when accessing Department of Veterans Affairs care and benefits.
“By passing this bill in the House with such strong bipartisan support, we are sending the message to America’s women veterans that ‘we see you, and we thank you for your service.’ Together, we will continue working together to ensure that we are supporting and honoring women veterans and transforming VA so that all of our nation’s veterans receive the benefits and services they have earned and deserve,” Rep. Julia Brownley—author of the bill—said in a news release. “The Deborah Sampson Act is the result of several hearings, roundtables, site visits and meetings with women veterans and their supporters across the country to identify issues and barriers they face.”
Brownley is the leader of the House Women Veterans Task Force, charged with promoting inclusivity and equitable access to resources, benefits and health care for America’s 2 million women veterans. According to Brownley, the House Women Veterans Task Force identified systematic deficiencies for women, including longer wait times, sexual harassment by fellow veterans, staffing shortages and facilities that fail to meet gender-specific environment-of-care standards. The Deborah Sampson Act is an omnibus bill intended to remove barriers and improve women veterans’ care as well as create equitable access to supportive services to include housing, legal services and other resources and benefits.
“DAV has always been a strong advocate for women veterans and we’re happy to see bipartisan support for the Deborah Sampson Act in the House,” said National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. “The work of the Women Veterans Task Force is not over, but we are encouraged to see comprehensive legislation such as this gain momentum.”
DAV’s 2018 report, Women Veterans: The Journey Ahead identified many gaps in VA programs for women and made numerous recommendations for comprehensive VA women’s health services that appropriately recognize their gender specific health care needs and fully honor their military service and sacrifices.
This bill includes provisions for a VA-wide sexual harassment and assault policy, including training for employees. Researchers found that 1 in 4 women veterans surveyed reported sexual harassment while seeking care at VA medical facility. To address these troubling findings VA issued a “Stand Up to Stop Harassment Now!” declaration that stated the VA Health Administration will not tolerate harassment of any kind.
“DAV has done a great deal to support women veterans over the years from developing special reports on the problems women veterans face as they transition from the military to civilian life—to recommending and advocating for necessary changes in policy and programs serving women veterans,” said DAV National Commander Stephen “Butch” Whitehead. “But we can only aspire to change culture if everybody is on board.”
The Deborah Sampson Act encompasses and builds upon a number of other women veterans bills and incorporates recommendations from DAV’s report. The bill would:
- Establish an Office of Women’s Health.
- Establish a comprehensive policy to end gender-based harassment and sexual assault at VA facilities.
- Ensure additional funding for primary and emergency care providers in women veterans’ health care mini-residency program.
- Establish a women veteran training module for non-VA health care providers in VA’s community care network.
- Ensure women veterans’ primary care is available during regular VA business hours and require a study on the potential need for extended care hours.
- Require the VA to assess the availability of gender-specific prosthetic items for women veterans.
- Require adherence to environment of care standards.
- Reporting on retrofitting facilities to address barriers to care for women veterans and deficiencies in care environments.
- Improve communications about women veterans’ services.
- Permanently authorize PTSD counseling for women veterans in retreat settings.
- Expand eligibility for military sexual trauma counseling to members to the Reserve and National Guard.
- Provide extended newborn care coverage.
“We’d like to see this legislation move through the Senate as quickly as possible,” added Ilem. “We are urging the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to take up and pass the Senate version of the bill—S. 514—so that differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation can be reconciled. We encourage all of our members and supporters to contact their Senators and ask them to support the Deborah Sampson Act so we can get this across the finish line.”
To follow along with this and other veterans legislation, sign up for DAV’s Commander’s Action Network at DAVCAN.org.