VA Strained as More Women Access VA Benefits

May 1, 2015

Women servicemembers are leaving the military and seeking veterans’ benefits at higher rates, and the VA is struggling to keep up.

There are more than two million women veterans in the United States, making up 10 percent of the total 22 million veterans population. Their number is expected to nearly double by 2040, even though the overall population of veterans is projected to decline.

Women veterans from the Post-9/11 era are coming to VA in significant numbers, requiring a huge demographic shift for VA, and one that requires immediate and sustained attention. 15 percent of all Post-9/11 veterans are women; 61 percent of whom receive medical care from the VA.

Yet, VA officials told lawmakers at two separate chamber hearings in April that they have more work to do to meet the needs of women veterans coming into their system. The message from panelists was clear: the VA must do a better job in acknowledging and addressing the unique needs of women veterans.

“We’ve seen a 29 percent increase in women veterans accessing health care in the past three years. We are busting at the seams and we need to ramp up our efforts even more quickly than in past years to meet the increase demand,” said Dr. Patricia Hayes, Chief Consultant for Women’s Health Services at the VA.

Hayes pointed to a range of programs addressing demand, like increasing the number of providers, implementing a comprehensive primary health care model and narrowing gender disparities, addressing mental health and military sexual trauma needs, and helping veterans obtain meaningful employment.

While there was consensus among the panelists that the VA has made extensive progress in recent years, surveys indicate women still are not consistently and equitably being recognized for their military service nor are they receiving the same level of care and benefits as their male counterparts.

One veteran told members she had to pursue medical care outside of the VA to address a rare disease when her conditioned worsened. “For years I complained to my doctors at the VA of numerous symptoms that were summarily dismissed. I was told I was too young to have any issues. Once my bloodwork proved positive for Cushing’s disease and the brain tumor that caused it, VA started to take me seriously.”

Another female veteran told members she ended up coordinating her maternity and post-natal care outside her local VA medical center. Stuck finding her own provider, she was then billed for the services. It took weeks and congressional involvement to resolve the issue, jeopardizing her credit because of VA’s failure to reimburse her providers in a timely manner.

“VA needs to pay its bills, it needs to provide a list of network providers to women needing care outside the VA, and the department needs to provide an advocate or case manager to help coordinate and advocate care for female veterans,” said Rep. David Roe (R-Tenn.) at the close of the hearing.

MOAA commends the VA and the committees for their support and for the policies and programs that have been put in place to resolve these disparities.

According to MOAA’s Deputy Director of Government Relations, CDR René Campos, USN (Ret), ensuring women veterans receive proper care at the VA is a top priority for MOAA. “Like all veterans, at the end of the day I just want to know that my needs will be taken seriously and that I can trust the system charged with my care and support,” said Campos.

In keeping with this goal MOAA supports S. 471, the Women Veterans Access to Quality Care Act of 2015, a bipartisan bill cosponsored by Senators Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.). This bill requires full-time obstetricians and/or gynecologists in every VA medical center, improves data sharing between VA and state agencies, and directs the Government Accountability Office to evaluate VA’s ability to meet the needs of female veterans.