BY KATE O’HARE-PALMER
“It’s OK. You are safe now. Everything is going to be alright.” These are the words that many of us said to the wounded during the war. And these were the promises made by the military and the VA to its veterans. Yet here we are beginning 2015 with major health care issues shadowing us four decades after the Vietnam War.
This past year has been filled with meetings and town hall presentations dealing with the multiple illnesses and diseases many of us have as a result of our service during the Vietnam era—in country or on bases around the globe. The toxic exposures that we experienced have resulted in long-term health consequences for us and our families for generations to come. Whether it is through an Agent Orange town hall or a PTSD and suicide prevention program, the information is getting out. Look on our website to find presentations near you.
In October the Women Veterans Committee reviewed the Vietnam Women Veterans Era Study. There are two parts to the study: One is to determine the prevalence of MS, Parkinson’s disease, and PTSD among women veterans. The other is to determine the status of women’s health, especially as related to cardiac disease, hypertension, diabetes, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, and cancers of the brain, breast, and reproductive organs.
It will be another year before all the results are announced. The study has shown that women who served in country have a higher incidence of death due to pancreatic cancer, brain disease, car accidents, and PTSD.
This study also reported that there was an across-the-board 50 percent reported rate of sexual harassment or assault. Sadly this issue is still occurring. Just last month the Department of Defense issued its Sexual Assault Prevention Response report .
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported a decrease in reported assaults in 2014 compared with 2012. For women, there were 19, 000 cases, down from 26, 000. For men, the rate was essentially the same. However, the retaliation factor that women fear when reporting assaults to their commanders is still a problem.
There is some good news. The VA has announced expanded eligibility for veterans in need of mental health care due to military sexual trauma. This expansion includes Reservists and National Guard members participating in weekend drills, which fulfills VVA Convention Resolution WV-9, passed at the last National Convention. We will need to review other areas of health care, along with women veteran issues, that we want to include at the 2015 Convention. Please contact us if you have a resolution. Each idea is important.