The Times West Virginian

Opinion

June 25, 2014

VA must address medical needs of rising number of female veterans

Nationally, the Department of Veterans Affairs has fallen short yet again on providing health care to those who have served this country — the rising number of female combat veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. A recent report was released that stated that despite $1.3 billion being invested in treating female veterans since 2008, the nearly 400,000 women are still facing shortcomings in the system.

Nearly one in four VA hospitals across the nation doesn’t have a full-time gynecologist, according to an Associated Press review of federal documents.

The Louis A. Johnson VA Hospital in Clarksburg, however, is not one of those hospitals. There is a full-time doctor on staff at the hospital Monday through Friday during regular business hours.

We’re thankful to live in a community served by a VA facility that does cater to the needs of female veterans.

However, the recent report highlights some other unnerving trends that without a comprehensive review we wouldn’t be able to tell whether apply to this area. But the fact that these trends exist in the system as a whole is pretty disgraceful and we believe need to be not only taken seriously but addressed swiftly.

The conditions include:

• When patients are referred to private facilities for mammograms, results are often not proved for more than two weeks, despite VA policy.

• Female veterans are placed on wait lists at a higher rate than male patients.

• Female patients are far more likely to be prescribed medications during child-bearing years that may cause birth defects than women covered under private insurances.

“Are there problems? Yes,” said Dr. Patricia Hayes, the VA’s chief consultant for women’s health told The Associated Press. “The good news for our health care system is that as the number of women increases dramatically, we are going to continue to be able to adjust to these circumstances quickly.”

Yes, last year 5.3 million male patients were seen versus the 390,000 female veterans. However, last year’s number of female veterans was twice what it was just 10 years ago. Tens of thousands of women are annually being added to the VA system, and the system has to change to accommodate them.

There are gender-specific treatments, tests and exams that VA hospitals, clinics and mobile units need to have to get the best care possible to these female veterans — the care they deserve. They shouldn’t have to be referred to facilities out of the VA system for care, as has been the practice because of lack of available physicians and equipment. That means often a greater commute and in some cases, having to dispute bills between private practices and hospitals, and the VA system.

Come now. We can do better than that. As scrutiny in the system continues, we certainly hope this information is considered and resolved.

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