As Mothers Day approaches, many families are making plans to honor their mothers for the role they play at home. However, we also should recognize and honor the role many mothers have played and continue to play in our armed forces, serving our country in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.
There are more than 1.8 million women veterans who have at one point had to leave their families to serve and protect our country. The least we could do is to guarantee that when they return home our country fulfills its commitments to meet their health care needs, which can only be accomplished by transforming the historically male-dominated Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) into an institution that provides top-notch care to all veterans, regardless of gender.
The population of women seeking treatment from VA is expected to double in the next two to four years and, quite simply, the VA is not prepared to meet the increased demand it expects. This lack of preparedness starts with a dearth of medical personnel trained specifically to treatment women and women health care providers, often preferred by women patients.
In addition to care for combat and service-related injuries, specialized care is needed for many women veterans of childbearing age who require care associated with pregnancy and post-deployment mental health issues. Women veterans also require screenings for cervical and breast cancers, bone health, and other similar gender-specific health conditions.
Women veterans are fortunate to have several dedicated champions in Congress who are trying, yet again, to pass legislation that would improve the VAs delivery of health care services for women.
Senator Patty Murray (D - Wash.) and Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D - S. D.) recently reintroduced bills, with bi-partisan support, which would identify barriers for women seeking care from the VA and address perceptions that the VA is unwelcoming to women. Specifically, the bills would assess the fragmented nature of health services for women at VA facilities - where many women are forced to visit several clinics in order to get their mental health, primary care and gender-specific health needs met. Sen. Murray's bill would also include a pilot program to help newly-separated veterans readjust to family life and connect with other similarly-positioned women veterans following deployment.
The need for this legislation is clear. As my colleague Joy Ilem, Assistant National Legislative Director, testified on March 3, 2009 before the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health, this comprehensive legislation will "improve and expand VA services for women veterans [and] is fully consistent with a series of recommendations that have been made in recent years by VA researchers, experts in women's health, VA's Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, the Independent Budget, and DAV."
Bill introductions, hearings and town hall meetings are great, but with growing utilization of VA services by women veterans, immediate action is needed. Women veterans earned the right to receive treatment at VA health care facilities through their service and sacrifice.
As children across America honor the contributions their mothers make to their families; the time is now for Congress to honor the sacrifices women veterans have made by passing this legislation to reform the way VA cares for women veterans.
Joe Violante is the Legislative Director of the Disabled American Veterans.