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Before the U.S. House of Representatives Veterans Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Health H.R. 1211, Women Veterans Health Care, H.R. 784, H.R. 785 and Emergency Treatment in Non-VA Facilities

March 3 , 2009

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Brown, Distinguished Members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health and honored guests, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) thanks you for the opportunity to present our statement for the record views on this important veterans legislation being presented before this subcommittee today.

It is indisputable that the number of women in the military has risen consistently since the two percent cap on their enlistment in the Armed Forces was removed in the early 1970s. This has resulted in an increased number of women we can now call “veterans”, and most assuredly, will have a direct bearing on the number of women who will be knocking on the door of the VA in the very near future. A focus on the capacity and capability of the VA to equitably and effectively provide care and services must be a priority today. Planning and readiness is essential for the future. These responsibilities also require oversight and accountability in order to meet both VA and veteran goals, objectives, requirements, standards, and satisfaction, along with agency advancement.

While much has been done over the past few years to advance and ensure greater equity, safety, and provision of services for the growing number of women veterans in the VA system, these changes and improvements have not been completed implemented throughout the entire VA system. In some locations, women veterans still experience significant barriers to adequate health care and oversight with accountability. Thus VVA asks the new Secretary to ensure senior leadership at all VA facilities and in each VISN to be held accountable for ensuring that women veterans receive appropriate care in an appropriate environment.

Additionally, there is much to learn about women veterans as a separate patient cohort within the VA. Women’s Health is now studied as a specialty in every medical school in the country. It has moved far beyond that of obstetrics and gynecology. Gender has an impact on nearly every system of the body and mind. This has great significance in the ability of any health care system to provide the most appropriate, comprehensive, and evidence-based scientific treatment and care. This also has a direct effect on the delivery system along with staff requirements to meet the needs of women now utilizing the VA health care system, as well as for those new women veterans who will be coming into the system in the future.

The VA has already identified that our country’s new women veterans are younger and that they expect to use the system more consistently. For example, in December 2008, the VA reported the of the total 102,126 female OIF-OEF veterans, 42.2 percent of them have already enrolled in the VA system, with 43.8 percent using the system for 2 – 10 visits. Among these returning veterans, 85.9 percent are below the age of 40 and 58.9 percent are between 20 and 29. In fact, the average age of female veterans using the VA system is 48 compared with 61 for men. Therefore it is clear that the needs of women veterans are growing and already taxing the VA system, which historically has focused on an older population.

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