Lawmakers introduce bill to expand VA services for female veterans

WASHINGTON – A few years after Army Reserve veteran Kate Hoit returned home from a yearlong deployment to Iraq in 2005, she sought medical treatment at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital, where she was made to feel like she didn’t quite belong.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called ‘Mr. Hoit’ or [was] stopped while navigating my way through VA hospital halls,” Hoit said. “For the record, I’m not lost. I have an appointment. I – we – belong here, too.”

Hoit was one of several women veterans who stood outside the Capitol on Tuesday alongside members of Congress as they introduced plans to expand government services for women who have served in the military. The women explained feelings of not being acknowledged as veterans in or outside of the VA and, in some cases, are perceived as “second-class veterans,” as Iraq War veteran Allison Jaslow described it.

The lawmakers outlined proposed reforms under the new Deborah Sampson Act, which is named for a woman who disguised herself as a man to join the Continental Army during the American Revolution. In part, the law would require every VA facility to maintain one primary care provider on staff who specializes in women’s health. It also calls for $20 million to be spent on retrofitting VA medical centers to provide more privacy for women veterans who are treated there.

Iraq And Afghanistan Veterans Of America IAVA founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff speaks at a Capitol Hill press conference on March 21, 2017. Behind him are, left to right, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.
JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

The Government Accountability Office reported in December that women veterans face a lack of access to gynecological care at VA facilities and through the VA’s network of community-care providers. The GAO found 27 percent of VA facilities did not have an onsite gynecologist, and they reported cases of maternity care being “significantly delayed.”

Many facilities did not have privacy curtains in exam rooms, which is a violation of VA policies governing the care of women veterans, the report reads.

The report, signed by GAO Health Care Director Randall Williamson, states: “[T]he privacy, safety and dignity of women veterans may not be guaranteed when they receive care at VA facilities.”

“Trust me when I tell you, a curtain and a lock on a door during an exam means the difference in a woman ever coming back to the VA for services,” Hoit said.

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