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VA system should serve, protect female veterans, not endanger them

Last year was a year of landmark legislation for women veterans. After more than four years of legislative advocacy, Congress passed of the Deborah Sampson Act (DSA) was a significant step in recognizing the need for a more equitable and inclusive Department of Veterans Affairs.

This act, signed into law early this year, includes provisions to address sexual harassment and assault in VA facilities, establish an Office of Women’s Health directly under the undersecretary of VA for Health, and improve access to care and benefits for survivors of Military Sexual Trauma.

Despite this groundbreaking legislative win and women veterans being the fastest-growing group within the veteran community, there are still glaring systemic issues that must be addressed to ensure equitable access to high-quality care for all women veterans. Without proper access to safety measures such as locks on the changing room doors, a choice to see only female physicians, and accessible OB-GYN, women veterans are being pushed out of the VA health care system and choosing to seek care through private insurance or not at all.

Answering the call

The sad reality is, according to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s (IAVA) most recent survey, 14% of our female members still feel unsafe receiving care in VA facilities, and the specific measures of the DSA have yet to be fully implemented. 

Since 9/11, over 700,000 women answered the call to serve their country. They should not feel like they are risking their physical and mental safety to receive medical care at facilities that are dedicated to serving them. Under Secretary Denis McDonough’s leadership, the VA must continue to aggressively crackdown on VA sexual harassment and create an equal and safe environment for female veterans. As a veteran and sexual assault survivor myself, I don’t utilize VA health care services. I know too many women who have been mistreated in those facilities.

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