WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, held an oversight hearing to outline gaps in VA care for women veterans and highlight strategies to bridge those gaps. Akaka gathered a panel of women veterans and representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Government Accountability Office to share their personal experiences and views on the VA system. The witness testimony yesterday illustrated the gap between the Department’s wide array of services for women veterans and the actual experiences of many women veterans.
“VA plans many valuable programs and services for women veterans. However, our witnesses demonstrated that VA must do more than just set mandates – the Department must ensure that women veterans know about the services available to them and are given assistance to receive them,” said Akaka.
• Genevieve Chase, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, and founder and executive director of American Women Veterans. During her service in OEF, Ms. Chase was attacked by a suicide vehicle-borne, improvised explosive device (IED) and returned home with symptoms of PTSD and TBI.
• Jennifer Olds, who served during the first Gulf War. She discussed her experiences dealing with Military Sexual Trauma (MST), the difficulties of rehabilitating, and the strengths and weaknesses of the care she received at VA.
• Kayla Williams, who was part of the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 and is currently on the Board of Directors of Grace After Fire. As a soldier with the 101st Airborne Division (Airborne Assault), she came under small arms fire and was mortared – an experience she shares with other women veterans despite the myth that female servicemembers don’t experience combat situations. She testified about VA care from her own experiences.
• Tia Christopher, a veteran and Women Veterans Coordinator for Swords to Plowshares. VA determined she has service connected PTSD associated with MST. She described for the committee the changes she has seen since her discharge eight years ago and the need for additional changes, such as child care for male and female veterans.
• Joy Ilem, a veteran and Deputy National Legislative Director for the Disabled American Veterans. She testified that when she left the service in the 1980s, there was little to no information for women veterans and that she neither recognized herself as a veteran or knew she was entitled to VA benefits for disabilities she incurred in service. Two decades later, Ms. Ilem feels that VA is finally taking steps in the right direction to address the needs of women veterans.
The Veterans Health Care Reauthorization Act (S. 252), Chairman Akaka’s omnibus veterans’ health care bill that was unanimously approved by the Committee earlier this summer includes provisions to help VA understand why outreach to women veterans is falling short by identifying the barriers women veterans face when seeking care from VA. S.252 would also authorize VA to:
• Implement a program to educate, train, and certify professionals to provide MST-related mental health care (more background here);
• Establish a pilot program to provide child care for veterans who require intensive care and are primary caretakers;
• Report to Congress whether there is at least one full-time women veterans’ program manager at each VA Medical Center; and
• Provide care for the newborns of eligible women veterans.
The Chairman’s opening statement, as well as the witnesses’ written testimony including the Government Accountability Office’s audit of VA health care for women, is available here.
July 15, 2009