The Women Veterans Health (WVH) Strategic Health Care Group provides programmatic and strategic support to implement positive changes in the provision of care for all women Veterans.
In 1988, the Women Veterans Health Program was created to streamline services for women Veterans in order to provide more cost-effective medical and psychosocial care. At that time 4.4 percent of Veterans were women. The current projected percentage of U.S. Veterans who are women is 8 percent. For the most recent projections, visit VetPOP.
The Women Veterans Health program was elevated to a Strategic Health Care Group within the Office of Public Health and Environmental Hazards in 2007, increasing its scope of activities to include all services provided to women Veterans. VA is actively addressing resource needs so that the proper training, as well as equipment and supplies (including DEXA scans, mammography machines, ultra-sound and biopsy equipment) are in place in facilities. Locate a facility to find out more.
To be a national leader in the provision of health care for women, thereby raising the standard of care for all women.
The WVH Strategic Health Care Group addresses the health care needs of women Veterans and works to ensure that timely, equitable, high-quality, comprehensive health care services are provided in a sensitive and safe environment at VA health facilities nationwide. We strive to be a national leader in the provision of health care for women, thereby raising the standard of care for all women.
To fulfill this mission, the WVH Strategic Health Care Group works to make certain that all eligible women Veterans requesting VA care are assured of:
Comprehensive primary care by a proficient and interested primary care provider
Privacy, safety, dignity, and sensitivity to gender-specific needs
The right care in the right place and time
State-of-the-art health care equipment and technology
High-quality preventive and clinical care, equal to that provided to male Veterans
Our strategic priorities focus on six pillars designed to deliver the best health care services to all women Veterans:
Women Veterans Health (WVHSHG) is coordinating closely with Primary Care Services to redesign the delivery of primary care to women Veterans to include gender-specific care at every VA site. Ultimately, comprehensive primary care delivered by a single provider in the same location—including gender-specific care and mental health—will be the predominant model of care throughout the VA health care network.
Through Patient Aligned Care Teams (PACTs), VA is implementing patient-centered care. PACTs provide accessible, coordinated, comprehensive care, and encourage patients to have an active role in their health care. Women’s comprehensive health care serves as a model for VA’s PACT initiative. Learn more.
The WVHSHG partners with VA Employee Education Services (EES) to conduct mini-residencies in Women's Health. To date, more than 700 VA providers have been trained. A second round of mini-residencies, covering additional women’s health topics got underway in late 2010, focused on more advanced women’s health topics. Grants released to the field allow for the training of additional providers by facilities. In addition, VA facilities are recruiting new providers interested and proficient in women’s health to meet the needs of its growing population of women Veterans.
Work is also ongoing with VA's Office of Academic Affiliations to support women's health fellowships and the Office of Nursing Service to provide advanced clinical training in women's health.
In collaboration with VA experts, WVHSHG is tackling women's reproductive health issues. Implementing safe prescribing measures for women Veterans of childbearing age is a top priority. Other important efforts include improving follow-up of abnormal mammograms, tracking the timeliness of breast cancer treatment, and ensuring coordination of care for women receiving non-VA, maternity and emergency department care.
The WVHSHG is leading development of a VHA-wide communication plan to enhance the language, practice and culture of VA to be more inclusive of women Veterans. A national Women's Health Communications Workgroup was created to advise WVHSHG on communication strategies to reach women Veterans and VA employees. Branding Women Veterans Health Care with a powerful identity, including a visual logo and tagline—You Served, You Deserve the Best Care Anywhere—has helped establish a consistent, nationally recognized symbol for high quality services that women Veterans should expect at every VA facility.
WVHSHG also works closely with VA analysts and data specialists to ensure that women Veteran populations are represented clearly in statistical data, including demographics, epidemiology, health status, and quality of care. Enhanced web capabilities are continually being implemented to improve the transfer of information among field and leadership personnel.
VA Office of Research and Development (ORD) has a key role in documenting the health care needs and utilization of women Veterans as well as their access and quality of care. Valuable information can be gained through risk assessments conducted on epidemiological data from women who served in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) and through the OEF/OIF Cohort Study.
For the first time in 25 years, VA surveyed women Veterans across the country to (1) identify in a national sample the current status, demographics, health care needs, and VA experiences of women Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces; (2) determine how health care needs and barriers to VA health care use differ among women Veterans of different periods of military service; and (3) assess women Veterans’ health care preferences in order to address VA barriers and health care needs. The interim report, released in summer 2010, informs policy and planning and provides a new baseline for program evaluation with regard to Veterans perceptions of VA health services. The final report will be released in spring 2011.
WVHSHG has partnered with the Women's Health Evaluation Initiative based in Palo Alto, CA to develop a series of Sourcebooks with key descriptive information about women Veterans including demographics, population growth over time, diagnoses, utilization and cost of care.
Special Women Veteran Populations
WVHSHG is working to ensure that the needs of all women Veterans are addressed, including those populations that require special attention.
Rural and homebound Veterans can benefit from emerging technology that will deliver care remotely through "e-clinics", mobile clinics, and home-based care services.
Women Veterans with mental illnesses can benefit through integration of mental health services within primary care, so that necessary treatment is provided in a comprehensive and coordinated way. WVHSHG is also working to enhance the availability of woman-safe inpatient psychiatric acute units.
Aging women Veterans can benefit from the latest advances in medical science and technology to identify and address cardiovascular disease as well as advances in treatments for diabetes, osteoporosis, and menopause.
Department of Veterans Affairs
Women Veterans Health Strategic Health Care Group (13E)
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Woman Veterans who are interested in receiving care at VA should contact the nearest VA Medical Center and ask for the Women Veterans Program Manager. Women Veterans Program Managers are designated at every VA medical center across the nation to advise and advocate for women Veterans.
The current projected percentage of U.S. Veterans who are women is 8 percent. For the most recent projections, visit VetPOP. 1
In FY 2009, the average age of women Veterans was 48 years, compared to 63 years for their male counterparts.
In FY 2009 and FY 2010 PTSD, hypertension, and depression were the top three diagnostic categories for women Veterans treated by VHA.2
About 1 in 5 women seen in VHA respond "yes" when screened for Military Sexual Trauma (MST).3
Though rates of MST are higher among women, because of the disproportionate ratio of men to women in the military there are actually only slightly fewer men seen in VA that have experienced MST than there are women.4
Women Veterans of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF)
The largest group of women Veterans today served in the OEF/OIF operations.
Women make up nearly 11.5 percent of OEF/OIF Veterans.
52 percent of women OEF/OIF Veterans have received VA health care; of these, 88.2 percent have used VA health care more than once.5
47.8 percent of female OEF/OIF Veterans who used VA care during FY 2002-2010 were 30 or younger compared to 43.8 percent of male OEF/OIF Veterans.6
A growing number of women are serving in the US military. In 2008, 11% of Veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq military operations were women. These numbers are expected to keep rising. In fact, women are the fastest growing group of Veterans.
What stressors do women face in the military?
Here are some stressful things that women might have gone through while deployed:
Combat Missions: Women are not always trained for combat. Yet they often take part in stressful and dangerous combat or combat-support missions. More women are receiving hostile fire, returning fire, and seeing themselves or others getting hurt. An "urban warfare" setting like the one in Iraq can be even more stressful. After coming home, many male and female Veterans continue to be bothered by the combat they went through.
Military Sexual Trauma (MST): A number of women (and men) who have served in the military experience MST. MST is any kind of unwanted sexual attention. MST includes insulting sexual comments, unwanted sexual advances, or even sexual assault. Being a victim of MST can leave women feeling alone, depressed and anxious. To learn more about MST, go to our section on War.
Feeling Alone: In tough military missions, feeling that you are part of a group is important. In some theaters, though, personnel are deployed to new groups where they do not know the other service members. It can take time to build friendships and trusting relationships. Not feeling supported can be very hard.
Worrying About Family: It can be very hard for women with young children or elderly parents to be deployed for long periods of time. Service members are often given little notice. They may have to be away from home for a year or longer. Some women feel like they are "putting their lives on hold." They worry that they can't be watching over their loved ones. If there are troubles at home, both women and men in the field might start to feel overloaded. After returning home, some women find it is hard to return to the "mommy role." They may find that they have more conflicts with their children.
Because of these stressors, many women who return from deployment have trouble moving back into civilian life. While in time most will adjust, a small number will go on to have more serious problems like PTSD.
How many women Veterans have PTSD?
Among women Veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, almost 20% have been diagnosed with PTSD. We also know the rates of PTSD in women Vietnam Veterans. An important study found that about 27% of women Vietnam Veterans suffered from PTSD sometime during their postwar lives. To compare, in men who served in Vietnam, the lifetime rate of PTSD was 31%.
Research shows that high levels of social support after the war were important for those women Veterans. Women who reported that they had close friends and family were less likely to have symptoms of PTSD. Having someone to talk to and someone who really cared helped women to adjust better to postwar life. It was also important for the returning women Veterans to feel that they could rely on others to assist them with tasks in times of need. Veterans who had this form of support suffered less from PTSD.
In response to the recent increase in women Veterans, the VA has put in place a number of health care and research programs just for women. This includes the Women Veterans Health Program and the Center for Women Veterans. Every VA in this country now has a Women Veterans Program Manager.
Trauma is common in women; five out of ten women experience a traumatic event. Women tend to experience different traumas than men. While both men and women report the same symptoms of PTSD (hyperarousal, reexperiencing, avoidance, and numbing), some symptoms are more common for women or men.
Most early information on trauma and PTSD came from studies of male veterans mostly Vietnam veterans. Researchers began to study the effects of sexual assault and found that women's reactions were similar to male combat veterans. Women's experiences of trauma can also cause PTSD. This finding led to more research on women's exposure to trauma and PTSD.
Risk of experiencing trauma
Findings from a large national mental health study show that a little more than half of all women will experience at least one traumatic event in their life. Women are slightly less likely to experience trauma than men. The most common trauma for women is sexual assault or child sexual abuse. About 1 in 3 women will experience a sexual assault in their lifetime. Rates of sexual assault are higher for women than men. Women are also more likely to be neglected or abused in childhood, to experience domestic violence, or to have a loved one suddenly die.
What happens after trauma
After a trauma, some women may feel depressed, start drinking or using drugs, or develop PTSD. Women are more than twice as likely to develop PTSD than men (10% for women and 4% for men). There are a few reasons women might get PTSD more than men:
Women are more likely to experience sexual assault
Sexual assault is more likely to cause PTSD than many other events
Women may be more likely to blame themselves for trauma experiences than men
Why are some women at higher risk for PTSD?
Not all women who experience a traumatic event develop PTSD. Women are more likely to develop PTSD if they:
Have a past mental health problem (e.g., depression or anxiety)
Experienced a very severe or life-threatening trauma
Were sexually assaulted
Were injured during the event
Had a severe reaction at the time of the event
Experienced other stressful events afterwards
Do not have good social support
What PTSD is like for women
Some PTSD symptoms are more common in women than men. Women are more likely to be jumpy, to have more trouble feeling emotions, and to avoid things that remind them of the trauma than men. Men are more likely to feel angry and to have trouble controlling their anger then women. Women may take longer to recover from PTSD and are four times more likely than men to have long-lasting PTSD. Women with PTSD also are more likely to feel depressed and anxious, while men with PTSD are more likely to have problems with alcohol or drugs. Both women and men who experience PTSD may develop physical health problems.
Treatment for PTSD
There are good treatments for PTSD. However, not everyone who experiences a trauma seeks treatment. Women may be more likely than men to seek help after a traumatic event. At least one study found that women respond to treatment as well as or better than men. This may be because women are generally more comfortable sharing feelings and talking about personal things with others than men.
Women in the military
Women in the military are at high risk for exposure to traumatic events, especially during times of war. Currently, about 15% of all military personnel in Iraq are women. Although men are more likely to experience combat, a growing number of women are now being exposed to combat. Women in the military are at higher risk for exposure to sexual harassment or sexual assault than men. Future studies are needed to better understand the effects of women's exposure to both combat and sexual assault.
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