February 12, 2019

A Vision: Proper Care for Women Vets

Young African-American woman talking on her cell phone - perhaps with her healthcare providerWhen a woman goes to the doctor, or to a clinic, intake typically fails to ask her if she is veteran or an active member of the Armed Forces. Screening for military status is a way to obtain a vast amount of information. Failing to screen leads to poor health outcomes, because providers miss the fact that service heightens the likelihood of certain kinds of injury, stress, trauma, and other health conditions.

We envision: healthcare systems that routinely identify female veterans at 100% of all screenings and use this information to guide appropriate treatment.

Women who serve have needs for gender-specific care that many healthcare facilities are not able to provide. The deficiency lies in both lack of scientific knowledge of battlefield injury and trauma-informed care, as well as an absence of awareness of military culture and how it relates to health and well-being.

We envision: all care providers learning about gender-specific, trauma-informed care with a military focus as part of their core training as healthcare professionals.

It is also true that many women veterans do not know about all of the resources available to them through the VA and other community providers. Those who live far from a VA hospital may not know that they can use their benefits at community facilities closer to their home. Military sexual assault survivors often do not know that they are eligible for certain services irrespective of their discharge status to treat symptoms caused by the assault.

We envision: a call center – modeled after the national Women Veterans Call Center – that will increase access to VA and other resources, so that all women veterans have and use an integrated health home.

Who is “we”? We are the Women Veterans Round Table, a collaborative composed of community members committed to serving women veterans. Participants include Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, the VNA Foundation, Thresholds, Sen. Durbin’s office, and a number of other interested parties.

Collaborative members met in a series of roundtable discussions throughout 2018 and explored many topics, but ultimately identified the three priorities sketched out above as the most pressing issues. They are addressed in the group’s new report, Community Goals to Reduce Barriers to Women Veterans’ Healthcare, which is intended to serve as a summary of the collaborative advocacy around access to culturally competent medical care for all women who identify as veterans.

The project builds upon a pathbreaking white paper released in 2016 that summarized priorities identified during the 2015 annual think tank of the Women Veterans Working Group of Illinois Joining Forces. IJF is a statewide public-private network of organizations that collaborate in person and online to help service members, veterans, and their families identify and marshal resources and services available to them. We are proud to have been part of that think tank, and of last year’s roundtable, and are excited to see the work advance.

Ten years from now, we envision a system that is unrecognizable by current standards, with women veterans accessing and receiving quality care at rates once unimaginable.

Does that read like a pipe dream? Well, it’s not. The work is urgent. As the number of women veterans rises, so too does the need for high-quality patient-centered care. All of these changes begin with the actions we are putting into place.

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