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july/august 2008

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BY MARSHA FOUR, CHAIR
No one can say that the VA has not made significant progress in the realm of women veterans’ health care and treatment in recent years. Advancements continue to occur as a result of insight and advocacy.

In light of this and the increasing number of women who are registering into the system, it continues to astound me that women’s health clinics in some VA Medical Centers still have limited hours for primary care. Some offer none at all, serving only as OB-GYN clinics. Some have no OB-GYN physician on staff in the clinics and must contract out, or refer to the community, all women who need this kind of care. Some offer as few as four hours per week for primary care. I have heard it said that the Medical Centers cannot justify increasing these hours because all appointment slots are not full.

But I have to ask: Is this because there are not enough women on the Medical Center’s rolls to fill these unfilled appointment times? Is it because limited outreach and full notification of hours have fallen short? Is it because the hours exist at times when many women cannot make use of them?

I believe the average age of women veterans using the VA today is younger than it has been in the past. In this economy, many women are forced to work full time to survive or share in the household income to make ends meet. When primary care—or any women’s health clinic care, for that matter—is only offered one or two days a week or at half-day clinics, and the hours fall during the work day, far too many women veterans cannot take time off from the jobs for their appointments. Many employers, moreover, would not tolerate this on a regular basis.

The time has come for the VA to look to a more flexible approach. Most community health providers have been doing this for years. Medical Center directors and chiefs of staff need to re-evaluate the approach they are taking.

I know this matters to you. I encourage you to become informed about this issue at your local Medical Center. If you would like to get actively involved, call your VA women’s health clinic and start asking questions. Ask about the clinic’s hours; ask what personnel are on staff and their specific hours; ask what services are offered; ask if primary care is offered. And then please e-mail me with your responses through the Women Veterans’ Committee web page at www.vva.org

 

 

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