Thursday, May 21, 2009

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Holds Roundtable to Address Issues Confronting Women Veterans





House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Holds Roundtable to Address Issues Confronting Women Veterans

Washington, D.C. – On Wednesday, May 20, 2009, Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, held a roundtable to address and assess the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide the right services to the country’s 1.8 million women veterans. The roundtable format allows participants from veteran service organizations, representatives of the VA, and interested stakeholders to come together to indentify the specific issues facing women veterans.

“Today we are on the forefront of embracing the needs of all veterans – not just the men,” said Chairman Filner as he opened the roundtable for discussion. “We know that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have seen the unprecedented call up of the National Guard and Reserve components. Today, women serve in the Guard and Reserve at a rate of over 17 percent which is 3 percent higher than that of the active duty military. We also know that women are serving in combat conditions right along side their male counterparts, which raises a whole new set of issues for these veterans.”

Participants discussed a number of issues that solely affect women or impact female veterans differently than male veterans. Broadly, the need was raised for a coordinated and national effort to provide programs and services for women throughout the VA. Although new services are being developed and implemented, the need is immediate for newly returning female veterans.

Secondly, there was a call for increased training for administrative and medical VA personnel. According to Anuradha K. Bhagwati, Executive Director of Service Women’s Action Network, “Many women veterans receive inferior treatment at hospitals run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Attending a VA medical appointment as a women veteran can be a traumatic experience. VA employees sometimes fail to acknowledge the prevalence of servicewomen throughout the armed forces, forcing women to ‘prove’ their veteran status.”

Further, Grace After Fire Boardmember Kayla Williams described the misconception that women do not participate in combat, and therefore, are not eligible for service-connected benefits. Ms. Williams said, “Being in combat is linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but since women are supposedly barred from combat, they may face challenges proving that their PTSD is service-connected. One of my closest friends was told by a VA doctor that she could not possibly have PTSD for just this reason: he did not believe that she as a woman could have been in combat. It is vital that all VA employees, particularly health care providers, fully understand that women do see combat in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom so that they can better serve women veterans.”

Participants also discussed the prevalence of military sexual trauma and the difficulty women continue to face as they transition from military to civilian life. Women detailed a perceived threat to a successful military career if they report military sexual trauma. They also shared the emotional and bureaucratic difficultly of receiving service-connection for mental health care as a result of the trauma they endured. A 2008 VA study reported that 15% of women in Iraq and Afghanistan experience sexual assault of harassment, which presents not only a retention issue, but clearly undermines the readiness of troops in the field and poses a threat to national security.

Also noted was the need to increasingly represent women in VA research, the reality that many female veterans have families and small children, the fact that many women veterans are married to men in the military, and the difficulty to rely on peer support because there are fewer women that have served in combat than men.

The Chairman referred to H.R. 1211, a bill introduced by Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin that would direct the VA to study barriers encountered by women veterans, assess all health care services and programs provided by the VA for women veterans, and provide graduate education, training and certification for mental health professionals who provide counseling, care and services to women veterans suffering from sexual trauma and PTSD, among other things.

“Today’s roundtable brought together experts with a range of different experiences to identify the specific issues facing women veterans,” said Chairman Filner. “Now, with this better understanding, it is our job to work to provide better treatment and more accessible services. My hope is that these discussions will lead to bold and bi-partisan legislation that will effectively tackle the needs of our brave and honored women veterans.”


· Phyllis Greenberger, President & CEO, Society for Women’s Health Research

· Anuradha P. Bhagwati, Executive Director, Service Women’s Action Network

· Kayla M. Williams, Board Member, Grace After Fire

· Linda Boone, Past National President, American Legion Auxiliary

· Charlene Kee, President, AMVETS National Ladies Auxiliary

· Joy J. Ilem, Assistant National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans

· Jenny Lainhart, Vice President, Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States Auxiliary

· Penny Collins, Director, Membership Development, Fleet Reserve Association

· Josephine Anton, Chair, Women in the Military Committee, Jewish War Veterans

· Karin Romney, Service Support Manager, Military Order of the Purple Heart

· CDR René A. Campos, USN (Ret.), Deputy Director, Government Relations, Military Officers Association of America

· Tamara L. Sullivan, President, Non Commissioned Officers Association, International Auxiliary

· Margo Sheridan, Tenth District Commander, Department of Virginia, Veterans of Foreign Wars

· Marsha Four, Chair, Women Veterans Committee, Vietnam Veterans of America

· Dr. Mary Nelson, Chair, Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, U.S. Department of Defense

· Shirley Ann Quarles, Chair, Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

· Dawn Halfaker, Member, Advisory Committee for OEF/OIF Soldiers and Families, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

· Patricia Hayes, Director, Women Veterans Health Strategic Health Care Group, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

· Irene Trowell-Harris, Director, Center for Women Veterans, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

· Lucretia McClenney, Director, Center for Minority Veterans, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

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