VA Facility A Model of Care for Female Veterans

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According to the Veterans’ Affairs Department, about one in five female veterans have told their health care providers that they experienced military sexual trauma (one in one hundred for males). This type of trauma can lead to PTSD, depression, substance abuse, headaches, chronic pain, chronic fatigue and more.

The recently-passed legislation to reform the Veterans’ Affairs Department was a breakthrough bill for the reserve component in expanding access to treatment for victims of sexual trauma. It authorized that drilling, non-veteran members of the Guard and Reserve who have been victims of sexual trauma could receive counseling and other services offered by the VA.

The VA is also required to provide female veterans with a welcoming comprehensive care center that offers a full range of medical services at each of its regional medical centers.
Last week I was back in my home state of New Hampshire and decided to take a drive over to Vermont to check out the Women’s Comprehensive Care Center at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction.  The Center services a rural population of 3,700 women veterans.

The facility was impressive. There was a separate entrance staffed by female veterans, and medical services were exclusively provided by female staff. This setup is designed to create a welcoming environment.

As I’ve visited VA centers around the country, I’ve heard staff tell stories of female veterans who were reluctant to visit facilities that were perceived as male dominated. The structure of the WCCC at White River Junction helps alleviate that concern. If other facilities could follow a similar model, female reserve-component members might feel more comfortable utilizing the treatment options now available under the recently passed legislation.

At NGAUS, we’re also working to make sure increased access to counseling doesn’t stop with sexual assault victims. Drilling, non-veteran members of the Guard and Reserve need access to all counseling services offered by the VA and veteran centers.

There’s a glaring need for this change, especially in light of the Defense Department’s Quarterly Suicide Report for the fourth quarter of 2013. The report said that 133 Army National Guardsmen committed suicide during the final fourth of the year, which was the highest number of suicides out of any branch in the military. Many Army National Guardsmen who took their life were non veterans.  

We can’t afford to wait any longer to expand the reserve component’s access to mental health care offered by the VA and veteran centers. NGAUS is working on legislation to make it happen, and it’s my hope that we can soon get our soldiers the care they deserve.

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