Women Veterans Committee Update March/April 2016

Female Veteran with Flag

WV-2 Medical Treatment of Women Veterans by VA: The VA has made many innovations and improvements over the past thirty years, but concerns remain about its services to women veterans. The committee has stressed that women must receive timely and geographically accessible care. Some improvement has been congressionally mandated in omnibus bill P.L.114-113. The VA Medical Services section includes expansion of the Choice Program, which addresses veteran health care needs in non-VA facilities in a more timely fashion. Despite the VA’s efforts to decrease patient wait times, progress is uneven. To better understand why these geographic service gaps exist, the VA must report to Congress on the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, and the VA Montana Health Care System. This bill fully funds gender-specific health care for FY 2016 and FY 2017.

WV-6 Women Veterans and Veterans Benefits: The new Veterans Benefits Administration agreement provides $76.9 million for Compensation and Pensions. Of the amount provided, not more than $15.6 million is to be transferred to general operating expenses, VBA, and information technology systems for reimbursement of expenses in implementing provisions of Title 38. Advance appropriations have been authorized for FY 2017. Women often encounter cultural road blocks in a system that was largely designed to meet the needs of men. The agreement also directs the VA to continue the Women Veterans Call Center.

WV-7 Women Veteran Program Managers: Women veteran program managers are now assigned to each VA regional office. Every woman veteran can ask to be directed to these program managers when seeking assistance with claims. Every VA hospital should have a full-time women veteran program manager for its Women’s Clinic. The compliance review is still incomplete.

WV-8 Military Sexual Trauma: DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Report for FY 2014 was released in January. The number of reported assaults was down. However, looking at the reports of those who said they received retaliation on the job or socially, or even a lowering of rank, one wonders how accurate those numbers are.

The report concluded that more effort is needed to educate new recruits about sexual harassment. Chain of command is still the ultimate judicial standard with concurrent blocks in equitable prosecution rates. The VA has been directed to increase mental health services to veterans who were victims of military sexual trauma and to report to Congress semiannually. Many women veterans go to Vet Centers rather than to a VA hospital. Vet Centers have been allocated $258 million to address the unmet mental health needs of veterans in rural areas.

Kate O’Hare-Palmer, Chair

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