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  • MeToo

     

    Advocates for military women are planning a #MeToo demonstration outside the Pentagon next month to add their voices to the movement that has put a spotlight on workplace sexual harassment and extinguished the careers of powerful men in entertainment, media, technology and politics.

  • Amputees in High Heels

     

    Researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs have played roles in a number of scientific and medical breakthroughs that have had a profound impact on modern life: the liver transplant, the nicotine patch and artificial lungs, to name just three.

    And now, as they seek to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population of wounded and disabled Veterans from the current era of war, VA design experts say they're going beyond barebones medical needs and aiming to help Vets live more comfortably, with technology adapted to their lifestyle and interests. It's work that requires them to listen to Veterans more closely and involve them and their feedback in the development process to a greater extent than ever before.

    One example of this work can be seen at the Office of Research and Development of the Department of Veterans Affairs, where they've come up with a 3D-printed ankle and foot device for a prosthetic leg to give amputees adjustable heels.

    Thanks to this research, stilettos are no longer out of the question for Veteran amputees. Outside researchers at Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere have developed similar devices, but Dr. Andrew Hansen of the Minneapolis VA Healthcare System said the VA's "Shape & Roll" prosthetic foot is unisex.

    "This study focused on high heels, but the results work just as well for cowboy boots," Hansen said in a VA release.

    The adjustable-heel prosthetic was an example of VA's commitment to research in areas that haven't been pursued by the private sector, said Dr. Rachel Ramoni, the VA's chief research and development officer.

    "Actually, there's a couple of things going on with 3D printing; you can print a foot for every type of shoe," Ramoni told Military.com.

    The foot-ankle prosthetic also demonstrates a willingness at the VA to take feedback from wounded and disabled Veterans themselves on what they need to accommodate the lifestyles they wish to return to or pursue, she said.

    Ramoni also cited current research into upper-arm prosthetics for women as an example of this work.

    "That's a small segment of the population; it's a small market," Ramoni said. "It's not an area where somebody would say 'Well, it's an obvious money making opportunity.' So it might not be good business, but it's the right thing to do."

    The other challenge with research on upper-arm prosthetics for women is that so little work has been done in the field previously, Ramoni said.

    "The sizing of the prosthetic is a big deal," she said, and "we don't know about women's upper arm satisfaction, because all of the surveys were designed for men."

    The work on adjustable heels and the upper-arm prosthetic research are among more than 2,000 projects involving 3,400 researchers now underway at the Office of Research and Development. ORD operates on a budget of about $722 million from the VA, supplemented by contributions from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and others, for a total of about $1.5 billion, Ramoni said.

    The money is being spent with a new emphasis on listening to Vets regarding where they want the research to go, Ramoni said.

    A Disabled Vet Tackles Design

    Dr. Rory Cooper was an Army sergeant in Germany in 1980 when he lost the use of his legs from spinal cord injuries in a bicycle accident.

    He now is a director and senior research career scientist for the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, a VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Center and home of the VA Technology Transfer Assistance Program.

    Cooper is also a Paralyzed Veterans of America distinguished professor at the University of Pittsburgh. As such, he is an advocate for what leaders in his field call "participatory action engineering," or, more simply put, listening to the people you're trying to help.

    Cooper said his frustration with the ivory-tower approach to human engineering grew out of his own experience trying to get a better wheelchair.

    "I was trying to solve some of my own problems," he said of his approach to design research. He found that he and other Veterans often were in "isolation" from the researchers.

    Cooper said that surveys and talking to the Veterans themselves are "ways to initiate the design process, rather than having somebody sitting at their desk or surfing their computer, trying to understand what you want."

    Designers and researchers should "start by asking [the Veterans]... to prioritize," Cooper said.

    He said his current research was focused on robotics, artificial intelligence and what he called "adaptive reconditioning technology" to help Veterans participate in sports and recreation.

    One such example: a robotic bed. One of the little-known everyday problems for disabled Veterans, and their caregivers, is getting in and out bed, Cooper said.

    "If you don't have the use of your arms or legs, or you're weakened, that's a huge problem," he said.

    The bed is currently a work in progress, but Cooper said the initial thought was to have a "chair-into-bed kind of a docking system, and the chair kind of puts you into the bed while a conveyer pulls you into the bed."

    A Secret Weapon: Veterans

    The VA has a major advantage over the teaching hospitals and the private sector in conducting wide-ranging tests and surveys that require huge numbers of volunteers, said Ramoni, the VA's chief research officer.

    "Veterans are absolutely core to our program," she said. "Our program is able to make these discoveries because of the thousands of VA patients volunteering here," and "what we do is driven by their needs."

    Outside researchers, she said, often ask how they can learn from current VA practices and how VA scientists get so many people involved in the development process.

    "We say what we have is not something you can learn; that you have a population of Veterans who want to continue to serve their fellow Veterans and the entire nation by participating in these studies," Ramoni said. "It's just amazing to me how committed Veterans are to continuing to serve and continuing to make discoveries that will help everybody."

    The Next Big Breakthrough

    Ramoni noted that VA's ongoing Million Veteran Program (MVP) on genome research has now enrolled more than 670,000 Veteran volunteers, to make it by far the world's largest genome database.

    In the program, begun in 2011, participants donate blood, from which DNA is extracted. Then a baseline and periodic follow-up surveys track the Veterans' military careers, and their health and lifestyles.

    The research seeks to determine whether the genetic information in the database could hold keys to preventing and treating diseases.

    "We believe MVP will accelerate our understanding of disease detection, progression, prevention and treatment by combining this rich clinical, environmental and genomic data," former VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin said.

    The MVP research opened the possibility for determining whether genetic factors were contributors to PTSD and Gulf War illness, Ramoni said.

    Many Veterans shared the same experiences in the same places in combat, and others were in the same places in the Gulf War; some developed PTSD and Gulf War illness, others didn't, Ramoni said.

    "The question we all ask is, why is that? Are there genetic markers for PTSD susceptibility, or are there genetic markers for Gulf War illness? Genes might help reveal that," she said.

    Source

    #veterans #military #amputees #womenvets

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  • Burn Pit Widower

     

    It was in 2009 when Brian Muller first met his wife, Amie.

    "We actually met at a music venue. And at the time I was playing music in a band and she had some friends there that were at the event," Muller, 45, from Woodbury, Minn., recalls in a recent interview with Fox News. "Her friends forced her to go out. I forced myself to go out and just to see some music."

    He remembers how they discussed her service with the Minnesota Air National Guard.

    "We ended up talking about what she does with the military," he says, "and at that time, she was doing a project to make video memorials for gold star families. Families that lost loved ones in Iraq or Afghanistan or any type of war."

    "She asked me to write a song for those videos. And that's how we kind of started our relationship, as-- friends, and then it developed from there."

    Brian has never served in the military but was impressed by Amie's service -- including her two tours in Iraq.

    "She wanted to fly, and she joined the Air Force. And she got deployed and had her life kind of uprooted there for a while."

    Amie was stationed at the Iraqi air base in Balad during both of her tours in 2005 and 2007. While her active service was already behind her, the effects from her time on that base still lingered.

    "She didn't really want to talk about her time over there," Brian says. "Anytime a door would slam or a loud noise, she'd get startled very easily. She had a lot of PTSD [episodes] from just little things."

    A decade after returning from Iraq, Amie's physical health also suffered. She was diagnosed with Stage III Pancreatic Cancer.

    "I still remember Amie getting the call, and she looked at me," Muller says about the day they found out about her diagnosis back in April 2016.

    "We walked around the corner just to make sure the kids didn't see. I could tell by the look in her face how scared she was. And I just kind of listening in to the call. And we just started shaking.

    Both she and Brian believed it was related to her exposure to open-air burn pits used to destroy trash generated on the base. Nearly every U.S. military installation in Iraq during the war used the crude method of burn pit disposal, but Balad was known for having one of the largest operations, burning nearly 150 tons of waste a day.

    The smoke generated from these pits hung above Amie's barracks daily.

    "She talked about the burn pits even before she got cancer," Muller recalls, "and how the fact that they would change the filters on these ventilation systems quite frequently. And every time they'd change it would just be this black soot, so thick that you would think you'd have to change it every hour."

    "After she told me what they were burning, you know, all I thought about is all the campfires that we had in our backyard. You don't burn Styrofoam. You don't burn plastic. We all know that, but they were burning all those things. Highly toxic."

    As early as Operation Desert Storm in 1991, burn pits were used at U.S. military bases in Iraq. At the height of the Iraq War in 2005, more than 300,000 troops were stationed there and potentially exposed to the smoke and fumes from burn pits.

    Thousands of Veterans and former contractors returned from the Middle East and have developed rare cancers, respiratory problems, and blood disorders from what they claim are their exposure to toxins from the flaming pits. More than 140,000 active-service members and retirees have put their names on a Burn Pit Registry created by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    After Amie was diagnosed and her treatment began, she and her family went public with her story in the hopes that it would bring awareness to the dangers she and countless Veterans faced after what they believe was a result of burn pit exposure.

    Amie succumbed to her illness just nine months after she first diagnosed.

    In her absence, Brian continued Amie's work in raising awareness by sharing her story. He also worked closely with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., toward getting "The Helping Veterans Exposed To Burn Pits Act" -- a bipartisan bill recently presented in Washington and signed by President Trump -- passed.

    The bill will help fund a new center by the Department of Veterans Affairs that will study the effects of burn pit exposure and eventually assist with treatment plans. He also started the Amie Muller Foundation, which helps other Veterans who were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

    "I just hope that our Vets are going to get the help they need," Brian says, "and it's not going bring back Amie, my wife, but it's going to get Veterans the help they need."

    But recent findings show that the Pentagon was aware of the dangers of burn pits during the height of the war in Iraq.

    Fox News recently obtained a series of memos drafted by top officials at Balad during the same years that Amie served at the base. The authors of the documents -- which include commanding officers as well as environmental officials -- stated that the operation of burn pits was a danger to those stationed there and that precautions needed to be taken urgently to improve conditions.

    "In my professional opinion, there is an acute health hazard for individuals," reads a line from one memo written by a Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight Commander and the Chief of Aeromedical Services at Balad in 2006. "There is also the possibility for chronic health hazards associated with the smoke."

    The memo also includes an assessment of the pits in Balad where one environmental inspector said that Balad's burn pit was "the worst environmental site I have personally visited."

    After inquiries by Fox News regarding the memos, Officials for the Department of Defense said that they would look into the matter and explained their procedural policy and that open-air burn pits are to be operated in a manner that prevents or minimizes risk.

    "DOD does not dispose of covered waste in open-air burn pits during contingency operations except when the combatant commander determines there are no feasible alternative methods available," reads the statement provided by a Defense Department spokeswoman. "DOD minimizes other solid waste disposal in open-air burn pits during contingency operations. Generally, open-air burn pits are a short-term solution. For the longer term, we use incinerators, engineered landfills, or other accepted solid waste management practices whenever feasible."

    Muller finds the memos troublesome.

    "I don't understand why they didn't do something," he says after being shown a copy of the memos. "These are people that volunteered to serve our country, and it just disgusts me to see memos like that, from high ranking officers that expressed this concern."

    Muller adds that the underlying issue is a lack of accountability.

    "The issue is they were doing something they shouldn't have done, that they constantly warned was an environmental hazard," he says. "And our Vets are getting sick. Our Vets are dying."

    "You know, there was a fellow that did a video--'Delay, Deny and Hope You Die.' And that's kind of what's been going on. They're delaying this as long as possible so that they won't have to deal with as many claims, because most of them will die before they do anything about it."

    Muller also believes that Amie would have never fallen ill if it wasn't for the fact that she was stationed at Balad.

    "I don't think she would have gotten cancer. I really don't. Maybe she would have later in life. Maybe it would have been some other type of cancer. I don't know," he says. "But something caused inflammation -- for something to grow in her body for a long period of time before it was ever seen and diagnosed. There was something going on with all of the Vets when they got back."

    In a recent interview with Fox News, Gen. David Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. Central Command and Multi-National Force-Iraq in 2007, offered an explanation when asked about why burn pits were used on military bases, conceding that the realities of war kept concerns about how to dispose of waste a low priority at that time.

    "At that time we weren't worried about burn pits," The general said back in September. "We were worried about just getting enough water for our troops in the really hot summer. We were looking forward to the time where we might get some real food, real rations, as opposed to MREs and so forth."

    The general also expressed that the U.S. has a commitment toward helping those Veterans.

    "It's a sacred obligation," Petraeus said. "But comparing what our VA does to any other country's care of Veterans... this is the gold standard. Certainly, a gold standard that can always improve, without question. This is an issue, though, where we have a sacred obligation, and we need to meet that obligation."

    Muller believes the general's recent comments to be a sign of a move in the right direction.

    "When you start seeing men in uniform, or women in uniform, people higher up in the military starting to voice their concerns, you know we're making progress."

    Source

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  • Celebrating female Veterans

     

    Throughout March people across the country will celebrate Women’s History Month, paying tribute to the vital role women have played in United States history. Generations of women have courageously blazed trails, broken barriers and fundamentally changed our society. At VA, we are proud to spend this month honoring and celebrating women Service members and Veterans for their past, present and ongoing service to our country.

    As the daughter of a Navy Veteran and someone who has had the privilege of working to advance Veterans for more than 23 years, supporting women Veterans feels very personal to me. My colleagues, mentors and friends are Veterans—many of them women Veterans. I am proud that here at VA, women are represented at every level throughout our organization. And while studies show that people typically imagine a man when they think “Veteran”—women Veterans have been around for much of America’s history.

    Well before the women’s rights movement came along in 1848, women in the military were breaking barriers to serve our county. During the Revolutionary War, women served in military camps as laundresses, cooks, nurses and spies. Up until World War I, women served as soldiers disguised as men. During the last two years of World War I, women were finally allowed to join the military in their own right. Thirty-six thousand women served in that war, and more than 400 nurses died in the line of duty.

    Today, about 219,000 women Service members are currently stationed throughout the world filling a diverse range of roles from radio operators, translators, and pilots to rangers. Times have certainly changed.

    As the number of women in military service grows, so does the number of women Veterans. Today, nearly 2 million Veterans are women. As the fastest growing Veteran subpopulation, women Veterans are making their mark. Before 2012, there had been only three women Veterans in Congress in history. Today, a record six female Veterans hold office on Capitol Hill.

    But while the success of our women Veterans is undeniable, the explosive growth in the number of women Veterans means VA must continue to adapt to better meet their diverse needs—and we are.

    I spent the first eighteen years of my VA career in Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Service —and I know first-hand how essential it is that Veterans receive their benefits and services to put them on the path to a meaningful civilian career. It’s our job at VA to anticipate the services women Veterans need and to provide that to them.

    For instance, women Veterans are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of businesses owned by women Veterans increased by 296 percent, to reach a total of 384,548 businesses, up from about 130,000. And the number continues to grow: over the past five years the number of companies owned by women Veterans has almost quadrupled.

    I hope you’ll take a look at the Center for Women Veterans’ new Trailblazers Initiative, which celebrates the contributions of women Veterans who served our country—especially those who blazed a trail for others to follow.

    At VA we are proud of our women Veterans, and we will continue to work to ensure that we anticipate and meet their needs as they continue to be a vital part of our military and nation. I extend my thanks to women Veterans who continue your service every day in big and small ways.

    Source

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  • DVA Logo 005

     

    Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced the appointment of a new chairwoman and four new members to the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, an expert panel that advises the VA Secretary on issues and programs of importance to women Veterans, their families and caregivers.

  • Ponies Up

     

    TheLos Angeles City Council approved funding to build a homeless shelter for homeless Veterans.

    LOS ANGELES, CA — A proposal to fund the city's portion of a temporary homeless shelter to be located on the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration campus was approved by the Los Angeles City Council Friday.

    Under a partnership, the city and county of Los Angeles will split the cost of the construction of the $5 million facility, and the Department of Veterans Affairs will provide on-site services.

    The City Council unanimously approved a motion seeking funding for the facility, which is to be located on the grounds of the VA campus.

    It will provide transitional housing beds for up to 100 homeless Veterans, along with laundry facilities, personal hygiene centers, 24-hour security and supportive services.

    "This is a really big deal for Veterans that the VA is finally starting to deliver, and I'm really glad that the city of Los Angeles and the county are helping them deliver," Councilman Mike Bonin said earlier this week at a Homelessness and Poverty Committee meeting before it moved the motion forward.

    The facility is scheduled to open in early 2019, and will be one of several new programs and facilities at the site aimed at helping homeless Vets.

    The VA also is working on its Draft Master Plan, which calls for 1,200 units of permanent supportive housing on the Westside campus.

    The VA additionally has opened a "safe parking" program for Veterans living in their vehicles, and started providing permanent supportive housing for homeless Veterans in existing buildings, with 54 Veterans currently housed in Building 209.

    With financial support from the city through HHH bond funds, two other buildings are being converted into permanent supportive housing for Veterans.

    The facility will be part of Mayor Eric Garcetti's "A Bridge Home" program, which calls for temporary homeless facilities in each of the city's 15 council districts. One temporary facility in Councilman Jose Huizar's district near the El Pueblo Historic Monument has already opened, with other sites at various stages of development.

    The VA bridge housing site will include two tension membrane structures along with modular trailers that will not be visible from the exterior of the VA campus, according to Bonin's motion.

    Source

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  • VA Failed Her

     

    She served her country for more than two decades but now believes the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is letting her down.

  • Denied IVF

     

    A female Veteran is raising money to pay for fertility treatments after the Department of Veterans Affairs denied her coverage because she’s unmarried.

    Toni Hackney, 46, told The Post that she developed endometriosis while on active duty with the U.S. Army and it made her infertile. Back in 2016, a physician’s assistant told her that IVF treatments could help her achieve her dream of conceiving a child, but that she would have to bear the costs, approximately $12,000 per round, on her own.

    “I’m a Veteran, I have to be married … But yet a male Veteran’s wife can get IVF, but I can’t as a Veteran. This doesn’t make sense to me,” Hackney told CBS This Morning. “It’s taking away my life dream of being a mother.”

    The Atlanta native said the rule, “was basically discriminating against me because I’m single.”

    Hackney, who served in the Army for 16 years and rose to the rank of a staff sergeant, started a GoFundMe Page with a goal of $45,000 to cover three rounds of IVF. If Hackney is able to get pregnant on the first or second try, she said she’d donate the rest of the funds raised to another single female Veteran who shares her dream of motherhood. As of Monday morning, she raised just under $500.

    The fertility rule isn’t the only discrimination Hackney said she faced in the military. After she was diagnosed with endometriosis and an ovarian cyst in 2002, she had the option of having surgery to remove the endometrial tissue or to take medication. She chose the latter for fear her career might be at stake.

    “Had I had the surgery, as a female in a leadership position, I knew that I was not gonna have a chance for promotion,” she said.

    Since the Department of Veterans Affairs first started covering IVF treatment in 2016, nearly 567 families have gained coverage. In addition to being married, those eligible for the treatment must have a military service-connected condition or illness that causes infertility, have a male spouse who can produce sperm or a female spouse who can produce eggs. A House bill introduced in February would expand the IVF coverage by giving Veterans access to eggs and sperm donation. The Department of Defense would also give service members the option of freezing eggs and sperm before their deployment to a combat zone, Connecting Vets radio reported.

    “It’s past time Congress took this outdated ban off the books and give Veterans peace of mind that these decisions are theirs and theirs alone,” Sen. Patty Murray, who introduced the bill, said in a press release. “We promise to take care of Veterans long after the war is over and allowing them to fulfill their dream of having a family is a big part of that promise.”

    Hackney said she hopes the bill will be introduced in time for her to have a family.

    “I need to feel that love that only your child can give to you. I need to have a decent chance at that,” she told CBS.

    Susan Carter, Director Of Media Relations at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, says the VA doesn’t decide who does or doesn’t get IVF treatment coverage.

    “Per federal law, VA cannot offer IVF services to unmarried Veterans. For questions and interview requests about federal laws governing eligibility for VA IVF services, we refer you to the relevant congressional committees of jurisdiction,” Carter said in an email,

    “VA does offer a variety of other infertility treatments to Veterans regardless of marital status.”

    Source

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  • Female Vets Am Legion

     

    The Veterans of American Legion Post 204 ― the “Service Girls” ― as they’re known in their Pacific Northwest home, are speaking out about the American Legion’s membership policies, which currently exclude the spouses of female Veterans in every branch of their organization.

    The former commander of Post 204 and 35-year Army Veteran Carrol Stripling is getting ready to file a third resolution with the American Legion since 2015. Her first two resolutions were denied. Stripling said the denials were representative of a culture that hasn’t always respected the needs of female Vets.

    “We don’t want our service undervalued any longer,” Stripling said at a June 23 meeting in Bothell, Wash.

    Founded in 1946, Post 204 is one of the few all-female American Legion posts across the country. Located in Washington state, the post is open to any female service members who’d like to join.

    “We call ourselves Post two-zero-four ― never two-oh-four ― because it makes [people] remember our name and who we are,” said Sandy Cooper, a retired Air Force Veteran and the first female USAF fire chief.

    “As a woman Veteran, you can’t be average. You have to be better than the men to get respect,” Cooper continued.

    Respect is why Post 204 came into being. Born out of what the women said was a need for sharing in a way only female Vets can understand, the service members said they support each other in and out of meetings without judgment.

    But they said they also have a looming concern about the organization that has come to offer them so much comradery: they want the same benefits their male counterparts are offered. They want their husbands to have a place within the American Legion organization.

    Elizabeth Bissett, retired Army Veteran, echoes the concerns of the other members. “I want to be able to have a male auxiliary … all of us are in the same boat and we don’t have an official auxiliary,” Bissett said.

    The American Legion history

    Since it was chartered by Congress in 1919, the American Legion, or The Legion, is the largest wartime Veterans’ nonprofit organization.

    According to The Legion’s website, it was developed by “war-weary Vets from World War I” and it quickly grew into a unique reprieve for service members to connect.

    The organization offers a network for Vets to grow friendships, bonding over volunteering events and activities, as well as unifying members through shared experiences. The Legion prides itself on patriotism and support for its 2.4 million members across the nation, according to its mission statement.

    The American Legion Auxiliary (ALA), developed the same year as The Legion, is a club for spouses of male Veterans, as well as daughters of Veterans.

    Essentially, it’s a place for women to lend support for each other and their service members.

    The ALA offers similar kinship and events, offering “support to The American Legion and to honor the sacrifice of those who serve…” according to the ALA mission.

    Likewise, The Sons of the American Legion (SAL) is an organization that offers membership to sons of Veterans.

    While these organizations have independent rules and statutes which dictate membership eligibility, all are inclusive to most relatives of Veterans. But none offer memberships to spouses of female Veterans, despite a growing concern.

    Female membership in the military

    In 1948, the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was passed by Congress, allowing women to have a permanent place in the military. But long before it was a law, women have inserted themselves in military efforts dating back to the late 18th century.

    Today, women represent 16 percent of all enlisted service members and 18 percent of officers. These numbers are up from 1973, when women represented 2 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

    The influx of female armed service members over the last 40 years are not reflected in the American Legion’s membership policies, which haven’t changed since it began in 1919, despite The Legion’s declining membership numbers.

    While there are more active female Legion members today, there’s still no place for their spouses to gather in support of their service.

    “You know, my husband has said to me, ‘if there were other husbands here that I had a way to network with, we could go out and have a golf outing or we could do this or that,' so there is a need and an interest in networking,” Cooper said.

    Membership eligibility and the American Legion Auxiliary

    The complicated issue of changing policy to include male spouses of female Vets in the ALA is determined by different factors. These factors dictate how and if the constitution of the American Legion Auxiliary can be amended.

    ALA National Secretary and Executive Director Mary “Dubbie” Buckler released a statement in 2015 on the subject: “The American Legion Auxiliary is a separate corporation, incorporated as an all-female organization with our own Tax Identification and our own IRS Group Exemption independent from The American Legion. As such, we cannot amend our American Legion Auxiliary bylaws to change membership eligibility because our Articles of Incorporation filed with the government already prohibits it.”

    She went on to say: “The American Legion Auxiliary is both incorporated and constituted as an all-female organization and our national governing documents cannot conflict with The American Legion’s governing documents. The American Legion National Constitution Article 13, Section 2 specifically limits membership in the American Legion Auxiliary to females, as specified consistently in everything published stating membership eligibility criteria. Therefore, any changes to membership eligibility in The American Legion Auxiliary would first require a constitutional amendment to both the Legion and ALA constitutions and an amendment by the federal government to the IRS Code, which is considered very unlikely.”

    The Vets of Post 204 say the long explanation is an excuse by the American Legion and the Auxiliary so they won’t lose their standing as a federal charter.

    “They’re worried about losing their federal charter. If you leave [the tax code] the way it is, nobody can mess with it,” Stripling said. “Before we went to Panama and Grenada, the Legion went to the IRS and said, ‘You know, we are all dying, we will have no members … so let’s let some of those Cold War Veterans in’ and the IRS said, ‘Sure.’ … So you can see it’s a misnomer.”

    Another explanation came from the American Legion Frequently Asked Questions Guide in a 2013 document citing that the need for male spouses to have a separate auxiliary would be arbitrary.

    In direct response to the question of why female spouses don’t have a separate organization, the document read: “Over the last few years, Internal Affairs has had a few resolutions on male spouses of female Veterans (either to join SAL or to establish a separate male auxiliary) that were considered by various Convention Committees and all were rejected … it was unanimously decided that the American Legion is a wartime Veterans’ organization and not a social organization. Each of the three organizations has specific requirements for membership with specific purposes and to add spouses either male or as defined by specific states would not add value to our organizations.”

    American Legion Auxiliary headquarters did not respond to further questions on the subject of membership eligibility.

    What comes next?

    Master Sgt. Kacie Chiappini, a current Air Force reservist from the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna, Ohio, said she joined the American Legion because it was a way to bond with her WWII Veteran grandfather.

    “My grandfather was the last WWII [Veteran] still living that was a member at our post and we would meet him there a lot before he passed away. He loved it there … but it was mostly [him] that got me going there,” Chiappini said.

    Like the women of Post 204, Chiappini shares concerns over why her husband can’t join the club where she’s had so many fond experiences.

    “To me, it’s mostly principle,” Chiappini said. “It needs to change.”

    Chiappini brought the issue up to her commanding officer Lt. Col. John Boccieri. Boccieri is a also a member of the American Legion and a former U.S. congressman in Ohio’s 16th District.

    “I, too, was startled by the fact that the American Legion will not permit spouses of female service members to join the auxiliary organization. Permitting a family to honor all Veterans in such an esteemed organization as the American Legion can only strengthen the respect we pay to all Veterans, whether male or female,” Boccieri said.

    The movement for change is in early stages as more female Vets question the policies of The Legion.

    However, the women of Post 204 want Vets like Chiappini, and every other female service member, to have the opportunity for a male auxiliary in support of their service in the near future.

    Stripling, Cooper and Bissett shared their frustrations over previous efforts to file resolutions and how their voices, seemingly lost before having a chance to use them, may not be enough to spark the necessary measures of change.

    “These resolutions we filed, they go to committees, but sometimes they don’t even reach the committees because the staff pulls them,” Stripling said. “The committees are appointed, but you don’t know which committee sees the resolution.”

    In the coming months, Stripling will file a third resolution with the American Legion, hoping this time it will make a difference.

    “I just think that changing the culture of The Legion will help change the whole culture in the military. That’s what we’re here for,” Stripling said.

    The women say they won’t stop until The Legion recognizes the need for a male auxiliary in support of female Veterans, whose service is just as valuable as their male counterparts.

    “We’re gonna fight. And we’re eventually gonna get it,” Bissett said.

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  • Homeless Women Vets

     

    “I’ll guarantee to you is that everybody, whether they want to admit it or not, they’re a heartbeat away of being homeless,” says Kendel Scaffe, a former U.S. Marine, as she makes her way to a bus stop.

    Although she uses a cane to walk, Scaffe’s steps are sure, determined, and measured. She has donned her dark blue Marine ballcap, emblazoned with “WOMAN VETERAN” stitched across the crown in gold letters.

    Scaffe is one of about 10,000 female military Veterans who call San Antonio “home.” Only, she didn’t have one. For years.

    “Bad things happen to good people,” she remarks. “You have the pride that you’re a Marine, whether you’re on the streets, or in a house. You’re a Marine. You can handle it,” she adds.

    While Scaffe was busy finding stability in her life, her adopted city, San Antonio, was being recognized for its efforts to help the homeless. A city publication listed the city’s high achievement:

    “In January 2015, Mayor Ivy Taylor signed on to the national Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, and on May 9, 2016, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed the City of San Antonio had effectively ended Veteran homelessness.”

    Scaffe scoffs when she hears that and believes many of the homeless Veteran women are flying below the radar.

    She says she hopped from one family member’s couch to another, or slept in cars as she searched for work. The military trained her for survival. And that training, she says, keeps her and her fellow women Veterans, off the streets.

    “They (female Veterans) think they can push through it. Because women are told, ‘just push through the pain; you push through the hard times,’ and as a result when they get out they don’t have a job, or they can’t find a job because they’re experiencing mental health problems,” says Scaffe.

    Those problems include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Experts say since more women serve in combat roles, they leave the service with combat trauma, in some cases coupled with sexual harassment they experienced while working alongside their male counterparts. Those scars make adjusting to civilian life much harder.

    Researcher Lily Casura has spent years studying homelessness, especially among women Veterans.

    “They start to struggle immediately, within the first six months, within the first year,” says Casura.

    “There are even ones who are struggling before they leave the military, as they anticipate they have nowhere to go,” she adds.

    Casura says being “off the streets” means female homeless Vets are being under-counted and under-served by the organizations who seek to help them.

    In Military City, USA, Casura estimates the homeless female Veteran population at more than 300, and nearly all of them are invisible.

    Katie Herrera, a social worker with the Veterans Administration, agrees.

    “I think for women, it’s obviously a scary and much more vulnerable position to be in, being out and alone. They try to do everything they can to utilize every resource they can before they actually have to be out on the streets,” said Herrera.

    We joined Herrera and some other retired servicemembers working for the Veterans Administration for the annual “Point in Time” count. Hundreds of volunteers hit the streets in San Antonio, part of a nation-wide, 24-hour period in January to seek out and identify the homeless and “count” them in their camps or on the streets.

    “The big piece is really connecting people with resources, making sure people are aware they don’t have to stay out on the street,” says Herrera.

    The VA has a Community Residential Care Program that will help place Veterans with affordable housing as well as programs to help them become more financially and emotionally stable.

    It’s a cold January night as our group comes upon an older gentleman, going through a garbage can near the gas pumps of a truck stop off Interstate-35. His grey hair is long, competing with a long, wispy beard.

    “So, you’re homeless?” Herrera politely asks.

    He stops his rummaging long enough to notice the small crowd that has gathered around him.

    He and Herrera make direct eye contact. His eyes appear to be smiling; hers appear warm and compassionate.

    “Homeless? Dang right!” he exclaims.

    “Would you mind answering a few questions for us?” asks Herrera.

    “I’ll answer anything you want,” he responds.

    This is a Point in Time contact: where information and some personal items are exchanged, the individual given an opportunity to get assistance, and a barrage of questions are asked and answered. We find out our homeless man isn’t a Veteran, but says he has plenty of respect for those who’ve served.

    He shakes hands and accepts a blanket before moving on.

    Herrera says the chances of finding a female Vet is nearly impossible during the Point in Time search.

    “I don’t want to see anyone on the street, especially not a Veteran,” she says as she lights up a dark alley with her flashlight.

    She added, “True homeless women won’t panhandle. They will find a way to eat, find shelter, have clothing. They will find it. But in the process, they don’t want anybody to know they’re a Veteran, because they feel ashamed they are in this situation.”

    Back at the bus stop, Scaffe tells us volunteers would’ve never found her.

    And even if they did, Scaffe technically does not count as homeless: That’s because the federal government has changed the official meaning over the years. Couch-surfing or staying with relatives, like Scaffe did, is not considered “homeless.”

    Scaffe says it should be for a female Veteran’s sake.

    “It’s a vicious circle and it’s very hard to break,” she said. “I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. I don’t like it.”

    Scaffe has been getting help and a home through the VA’s Community Residential Care Program since 2012. She encourages all Veterans to reach out to their local VA facility.

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  • Homeless Female

     

    MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The number of female homeless Veterans is on the rise.

    A home was dedicated Thursday in Maplewood to honor their service by helping some women Veterans in their time of need.

    A five-bedroom, four-bath home is the result of a partnership between the Builders Association of the Twin Cities, Lennar homes and Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans.

    MAC-V will take five homeless female Veterans and place them in this structured independent living home. There will also be services to help these Veterans get the resources they need.

    “We’re going to come around them with wraparound services, case manage all the way through and we stay with them for two years and beyond to make sure that they’re getting stabilized.”

    There are 30,000 female Veterans in Minnesota. Twenty women are currently on the registry for housing.

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  • Breast Cancer Trtmn 003

     

    Scientists say a new treatment is showing promise in the fight against aggressive breast cancer. Three years ago, at age 39, Maribel Ramos was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. The type was triple negative.

    "I was angry and sad," Ramos said. "Because I know that the triple negative is a type of cancer that is really hard to treat."

    Ten to 20 percent of breast cancers are called triple negative because they don't have receptors – such as ones for estrogen – that can be targeted by certain medications. Treatment options are limited, and these cancers tend to be more aggressive, with worse outcomes.

    In 2016, Ramos entered a trial to test the immunotherapy drug Tecentriq on patients with advanced triple negative breast cancer.

    The drug works by targeting proteins found on immune cells and some cancer cells. It's approved for bladder and one type of lung cancer.

    Dr. Sylvia Adams of NYU-Langone Health was one of the trial investigators. She says the new drug helps the immune system recognize the cancer.

    "There are killer cells already in the cancer present and ready to fight, except that this cancer shields itself from the from the immune attack," Adams said. "So this drug is now able to take the shield down and basically paves the way for your own immune response to kill the tumor."

    The trial, at hundreds of sites in 41 countries, followed 902 patients and found the combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy improved overall survival by nearly four months, (3.7 months) and nearly 10 months for those patients whose tumors tested positive for the targeted protein.

    "Hopefully this will actually improve the treatments for many other women with breast cancer as well," Adams said.

    "The tumor was getting smaller," Ramos said. "So every time, every four weeks it was getting smaller and smaller and I was so excited."

    "The last scan from just last week that shows that she's still completely without any evidence of disease," Adams said.

    Three years ago, Ramos worried she wouldn't see her oldest daughter graduate. In June, she did.

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  • Womens Mental Health

    Women currently comprise approximately 16 percent of the United States military. As of 2016, service women are permitted to serve in any military position for which they meet the gender-neutral performance standards and requirements. These expanded roles have increased the cadre of responsibilities that service women have, as well as increased their potential challenges. As such, it is more important than ever for military leadership, researchers, and health care providers to understand women’s health.

    The Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Defense (DOD) collaborated to host the National VA/DOD Women's Mental Health Mini-Residency Aug. 28-30 in Arlington, Virginia. This mini-residency brought together more than 150 VA and DOD mental health providers so they could gain knowledge and skills in the provision of gender-sensitive care to women Veterans and service members. Specific topics included:

    • Complex trauma
    • Psychopharmacology
    • Safety planning
    • Suicide prevention
    • Compassion fatigue
    • Sexual functioning
    • Impact of health conditions
    • Ostracism, and many others

    During the mini-residency, attendees developed an action plan to disseminate these best practices and facilitate practice change at their local facilities -- to optimize women's mental health care in VA and DOD. Requests from DOD mental health providers to attend in person far exceeded the number of spots available, so we posted all DOD presentations and posters on the mini-residency website for you to read, download and share with colleagues.

    Today also marks the start of Women’s Health Month, a time to highlight women’s health, to include the mental health of service women. Throughout the month, we will showcase some of the exciting presentations from the mini-residency through our Clinician’s Corner blog series.

    Dr. Nancy Skopp, PHCoE research psychologist, will describe the impact of gender stereotypes on diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Laura Miller of the Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Hines, Illinois, will highlight mental health across the female lifespan, and Dr. Margaret Altemus of the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, will discuss perinatal and postpartum depression. Dr. Lauren Messina of the Consortium for Health and Military Performance will discuss a total force fitness approach to physical and mental health, which can help women and men improve their emotional health and manage symptoms of mental health disorders.

    For updated research and resources, be sure to check out our Women’s Mental Health webpage and follow us on Facebook for more women’s mental health-related posts and resources. Like, comment and share on your channels so we can promote women’s health awareness, and particularly the importance of women’s mental health, during October.

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  • Medical Records

     

    In any claim for VA disability benefits, evidence is needed to help prove the claim. Medical evidence can be one of the most important pieces to the puzzle. It is important to know how you can obtain your own medical records, whether it is through a private doctor or medical facility and through a VA Medical Center and/or facility.

    The VA has a “duty to assist” Veterans or, in other words, help them obtain their medical records to support their VA disability claim. Even though the VA has a duty to assist, it is the Veteran’s responsibility to provide any and all evidence that they wish to submit to the VA to help support their claim.

    VA Medical Records

    If you have been treated at a VA Medical Center, the medical records can be requested directly from the VA Medical Center by using VA Form 10-5345a release or by visiting your local VA Medical Center. When using this VA Form 10-5345a, it is important that you are using the most updated form available. You do not want to be using an out of date form to help keep the VA from denying your request for your records.

    Another way to access your VA medical records is through an online portal called My HealtheVet. This website allows Veterans to create an online account where they can access their VA medical records. With this online account, there are three kinds of accounts available: a basic account which provides limited access to features available that is usually self-entered, an advanced account, and a premium account which gives the highest level of access to all of the sites’ features. First-time users should visit https://www.myhealth.va.gov/mhv-portal-web/home or contact their local VA Medical Center for assistance.

    Private Medical Records

    You can obtain records from private doctors or hospitals by simply contacting them and asking for your records. Some private facilities may request that you fill out a release form for them to release your records to you or they may have their own online portal that is similar to My HealtheVet, where you can access your private medical records.

    You may also request that the VA obtain these records for you by signing a release form.

    National Personnel Records Center

    The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) is a part of the National Archives and Records Administration. The NPRC stores records for Veterans who have been discharged or have retired from the military. Most of these records are not stored electronically so it may take some time for the records that are being requested to be found. Most of these records are paper records that have been stored in boxes.

    You can request personnel and service treatment records from the NPRC as well as a copy of your DD214 should you need a copy. You can request NPRC records online or by using a Standard Form 180. Any specific information like the name of the hospital where you were admitted for treatment during service or where you served in combat may be beneficial to include in your request.

    Why Are Your Medical Records Important?

    Medical records that are relevant to your claim can help paint a picture of the symptoms and the severity of your claimed condition. It is important that you always report worsening symptoms to your doctors so that your doctor can notate your worsening symptoms. This is always helpful in cases for an increased rating. Medical records establish the types of disabilities you have been diagnosed with and provide clinical findings, lab results, and important medical opinions from your medical providers who are most familiar with your condition.

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  • VA Work for Women

     

    Anyone who thinks the Department of Veterans Affairs is an old boys’ club should meet some of the women running it.

    I’m one of them.

    The VA has a long history of both serving women and putting them in a position to lead, and we’re better positioned than ever to help our women warriors when they return home.

    Women have played an important role here since before my great grandfather fought in World War I, when Veterans could get benefits from the VA’s predecessor, the Bureau of War Risk Insurance. By the time my grandfather was in World War II, we were the Veterans Administration, and more than 10 percent of our employees were women.

    By the mid-70s, women made up more than half of our workforce. Today, under Secretary Robert Wilkie, women are running major components of the VA, which shows his commitment to serving women Veterans as they transition and seek care.

    • Dr. Melissa Glynn heads up our Office of Enterprise Integration and is in charge of our modernization effort that will see the VA undergo the most dramatic evolution it’s ever seen.
    • Cheryl Mason is chairman of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and leads a team of more than 1,000 judges, attorneys and staff that makes decisions on appeals brought by Veterans and their families.
    • Dr. Lynda Davis is our chief Veterans experience officer and works to make sure we’re on track to becoming the top customer service organization in the federal government.
    • Karen Brazell is executive director of our Office of Acquisition, Logistics, and Construction, and oversees procurement and risk management for the VA, which is the largest integrated health care system in the country.
    • Dr. Tamara Bonzanto is assistant secretary for our Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, a new office that’s aimed at building transparency and public trust throughout the VA.
    • Jacquelyn Hayes-Byrd is executive director of our Center for Women Veterans, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and strives to make sure women can get the care and respect they deserve when they walk through our doors.

    We rely on these women and thousands of others across the VA to make sure we’re in a position to help a growing population of women Veterans. Over the last five years, women have accounted for 30 percent of the increase in Veterans that seek out the VA for medical care.

    That’s a challenge, but it’s one we’re meeting. We’re providing more medical services for women than ever before, including comprehensive primary care, gynecology, maternity care and mental health services.

    Studies show that women Veterans are more likely to receive breast cancer and cervical cancer screening than women using private sector health care.

    We’re taking special care to focus on women who are at risk of suicide. Preventing suicide among all Veterans is one of our top priorities, but we’re working hard to understand how the stress of a duty tour affects women differently and funding several studies that will shape treatment options.

    We’ve also been working for several years now to change the culture and prevent all forms of sexual harassment in our medical centers. Those efforts are yielding results — we’re training our staff to intervene when they see harassment, and we are pushing to make sure women are comfortable coming to our clinics to get the care they’ve earned.

    How do we know we’re making progress? Women have noticed the improvement and are voting with their feet.

    The number of women choosing VA health care has tripled since 2000, when we served about 160,000 women Veterans. More than 750,000 women are benefitting from VA health care or other benefits.

    That number is only expected to grow. Women are expected to make up about 10 percent of all U.S. Veterans today, but as women swell our military’s ranks, we’ll be seeing even more women at the VA in the years ahead.

    Surveys show women like the changes they’re seeing. A recent study said 84 percent of women Veterans trust us with their medical care and are satisfied with the overall VA experience.

    The VA is succeeding with women because women are having more input than ever before into how the department is run.

    But don’t just take it from me — stop in at one of the open houses we’ll be hosting this year at VA clinics around the country to celebrate Women’s Health Week.

    Come and meet the women who are taking care of our nation’s heroes.

    nd to all women who have served this nation so honorably, thank you for your service and we hope you choose VA.

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  • Female Problems

     

    From body armor to health care, theUS military has been slow to adapt to women in its ranks. Female service members are paying the price, often with lifelong consequences.

    WASHINGTON — They didn’t want to complain — being a woman in the US military, the last thing you want to be seen as is weak — but the sharp abdominal pain was becoming debilitating. Military doctors dismissed it as “female problems,” period cramps. It was “normal,” they were told. It was said or implied that they were overreacting. They were given painkillers and birth control, and told to report back to duty.

    Those orders landed six of the more than a dozen female service members interviewed by BuzzFeed News in the hospital, fighting for their lives. One was in the ER a few weeks later with a “baseball-sized cyst,” bleeding internally. Another underwent an experimental, highly invasive, and botched surgery by a military doctor. Several had hysterectomies. All now live with infertility; chronic, debilitating pain; and sky-high medical bills. It wasn’t period cramps.

    Interviews with more than a dozen current and former female service members — spanning different branches, decades, and deployments — revealed striking similarities in the way they were brushed off, misdiagnosed, and provided the wrong treatments by US military doctors around the world. In the cases of at least six of the women who spoke to BuzzFeed News, military doctors' inability or unwillingness to properly diagnose women’s health problems put their lives at risk and often created serious new medical issues. For many, it ended their military career. Most said they were properly, quickly, and easily diagnosed by civilian doctors after meeting dead ends with military doctors for years.

    While the Defense Department hasn’t done a comprehensive survey of women’s health issues in 30 years, female service members have long reported receiving inadequate medical care and higher rates of infertility, especially when deployed abroad, in smaller-scale, targeted studies and surveys. More recently, a study released in December by the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) found that the roughly 800 current and former female service members surveyed were about 30% more likely to struggle with infertility than civilian women.

    This year, Pentagon-contracted researchers are expected to begin the first comprehensive study of female service members’ health issues since 1989. Experts say it will provide sorely needed data to back up decades of often horrific anecdotal evidence — usually suppressed and only shared among female service members in private — of the real cost of moving too slowly to adapt to women in the ranks.

    At a time when more women are serving in the US military than at any other point in history, military leaders and lawmakers are realizing that not taking the health issues of female soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen seriously is impacting military readiness.

    But it's taken women rising to leadership positions — four-star generals, combatant commanders, and lawmakers on armed services committees — for this issue to gain any traction.

    “I laugh when [the Pentagon] says they take care of women in the military,” Rebecca Lipe, a retired Air Force captain who served in Iraq, told BuzzFeed News. “No. Women in the military take care of other women in the military.”

    There is a pervasive problem in the medical community writ large of dismissing women’s pain as false or exaggerated, but it is exacerbated in a mostly male military environment with a lingering resistance to women in their ranks, and a lack of understanding of how military service impacts women differently than men. And there’s evidence the problem hasn’t gotten better as more women have entered the military; the women who spoke to BuzzFeed News described having similar issues in the late 1990s and early 2000s as others did in the past few years.

    “I was treated as if I was in the wrong”

    Lipe was an Air Force captain and deputy staff judge advocate (a senior lawyer) in Iraq in 2011. Only 27 years old at the time, she was in charge of overseeing five bases’ compliance with military and federal law as well as advising local Iraqi criminal courts, a job that required a lot of off-base travel by helicopter and convoy. This meant she was constantly wearing body armor — body armor that was designed for men.

    “Theoretically if you get shot in the side, there’s side panels, but I couldn’t even wear those, because I couldn’t get it to fit or stay on correctly,” she said. “So if I ever were to get hit in the side that would— that would be a bad thing,” she told BuzzFeed News.

    Like many of her female colleagues, Lipe had to adapt the body armor as best she could. The only way it would protect her vital organs the way it was meant to was if she stuck foam rubber under the shoulder straps to lift it up, she said.

    It wasn’t until later that she found out that wearing this ill-fitting equipment weighing more than 40 pounds, while sitting at the 90-degree angles forced by military convoy seats for hours and days on end, likely caused multiple “sports herniations” in her pelvis. When she went to the doctors on base seeking treatment for intense pelvic pain, they insisted it was not a hernia, medical records reviewed by BuzzFeed News show. Instead they became convinced it was symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease, and repeatedly tested Lipe for STDs despite her insistence that there was practically no way she could have one. She was married and faithful to her husband, she told them, but they kept asking her if she was having an extramarital affair.

    “I was treated as if I was in the wrong,” Lipe, now 36, told BuzzFeed News, speaking from her office in Chicago where she works as an attorney after retiring from the Air Force. “Clearly they thought I must have been this adulterous, excuse me, whore who was doing something wrong. And I was like, look, I’m the lawyer here, I’m the one enforcing these rules, you have to be kidding me.”

    All the STD tests came up clean, records show, but the pain got worse. It got so bad that she stopped being able to walk to the dining facility for meals. The doctors told her it was her endometriosis (a common disorder that leads to unusually painful menstruation) but she had knew what that felt like, and this wasn’t it. Within a few days she had to be medically evacuated to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, a trip that only exacerbated her injury, Lipe said. No one believed she was in as much pain as she was. She could barely get up, but they made her walk and carry her own bags to the plane, where the nurses refused to give her the amount of painkillers the doctors had prescribed her for the flight, records reviewed by BuzzFeed News show.

    At first, the military doctors in Germany refused to admit her, saying it was just period cramps, Lipe said, until a higher-ranking officer insisted on her behalf. The records show Lipe was told she had developed a pelvic infection in Iraq from unknown causes (a diagnosis her OB-GYN later wrote in her records, after consulting with nonmilitary specialists, was incorrect and made “without any objective evidence”). Not knowing what else was wrong with her, she was shipped back to the US, to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida for further treatment.

    “I spent the next two years having to advocate for myself to the point of defending my mental health,” Lipe said, echoing a sentiment expressed by every woman who spoke to BuzzFeed News. “I was constantly in pain … I got to the point where I was suicidal because I was literally being told this was all in my head. There’s only so much you can be told that before you start to think you’re going crazy.”

    Finally, almost exactly a year after Lipe first started experiencing the pain, a private, nonmilitary reproductive endocrinologist and general surgeon in Jacksonville, Florida, figured out what was wrong with her — multiple small pelvic hernias caused by the ill-fitting body armor. It took two one-hour appointments, her records show, and they knew exactly how to fix it. After extensive surgery to fix eight areas of her abdominal wall, she began to improve.

    However, due to the delay of proper treatment and the many procedures and medications military doctors prescribed for problems she did not have, Lipe had become hormonally depleted. It caused nerve damage and vaginal atrophy, her medical records show, that prevented her from having sex with her husband, and she had trouble conceiving naturally.

    “I won’t ever go back to a military medical facility,” Lipe said.

    While Lipe’s case was extreme, the military’s own surveys show a widespread problem with women getting access to health care.

    According to a 2006 military study of female soldiers who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, 44% could not access gynecologic care during their deployment. A later study in 2009 found that 35% of female soldiers had at least one gynecologic problem while they were deployed in Iraq, with 11.5% having to take the risk of traveling by ground convoy and 28% by air to obtain care.

    Many other women described similar ordeals to BuzzFeed News, with misdiagnosis of fairly common medical issues as “female problems” — a term every woman who spoke to BuzzFeed News used to refer to menstruation, saying it was what men in the military said as well — not only interrupting their military careers but causing long-term injuries.

    All the women who spoke to BuzzFeed News said the pressure to “suck it up” and fight the perception of being seen as weak was especially acute as female service members. Many of the men they served with or who treated them saw women as “problem soldiers” — especially if they complained about pain, they said. They all said some of the men made it clear they thought the military was no place for women at all.

    “I can only guess a lot of other women feel this way, but I never want to be perceived as a whiner. I don’t wanna be a complainer,” retired Air Force Maj. Annie Morgan, who experienced similar issues, told BuzzFeed News. “I feel a certain need to be tough, and I don’t know if the military’s telling me that or if I’m imposing this on myself because I know I’m in the minority.”

    If you have to repeatedly tell your superiors and the medics on site that you’re in pain, “it proves their thinking that women shouldn’t serve in certain capacities,” Catherine Harris, who retired last year as a first sergeant in the Army, told BuzzFeed News said. “So you think, OK, I’m gonna keep quiet so I don’t ruin someone else’s chances of doing this.”

    But the pain got so bad for the women who spoke to BuzzFeed News that they couldn’t keep quiet anymore. It was interfering with their jobs, their military service, and their lives. Three of the women were accused of malingering while they were experiencing chronic, debilitating pain. All of them said that this constant denial of their pain took a mental toll on them.

    “We don’t want special care, we want the same level of quality care that the men have,” Harris said.

    A recent analysis of military medical research put out between 2000 and 2015 found that “research on the US military has until recently focused almost exclusively on the health of male service members,” and that gynecological care had the highest percentage of low-quality articles and information available to service members.

    For Harris, 47, her problems started after an accident in the early 2000s in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. She was on duty driving two soldiers when the rear axle of the truck gave out, rolling over several times, she told BuzzFeed News. Harris said she went to the hospital complaining of lower abdominal pain, which continued and got more severe over time. As with five other women who spoke to BuzzFeed News, she said the military doctors dismissed her pain as connected to her period — “female problems” — and prescribed her several different kinds of birth control, none of which worked.

    Harris told BuzzFeed News she had trouble with infertility after that, and lost two pregnancies. During a third pregnancy, she said she was sent to a nonmilitary doctor, because she was considered to have a “high-risk” pregnancy. That doctor discovered large ovarian cysts that endangered her life and her pregnancy, requiring her to undergo a risky operation. Luckily, she and her daughter survived both the procedure and the birth.

    But Harris's pain continued for years, as military doctors continued to insist it was only period cramps, she said. It grew worse in 2013 after she deployed to Afghanistan, where she underwent several physically traumatic experiences, including being in an aircraft that came under fire and being proximate to an explosion, she said. The pain came to its peak in 2015 when she was stationed at the US Army garrison in Vicenza, Italy. Before she deployed, a doctor had installed an IUD in an attempt to help the issues caused by the abdominal trauma, but it had to be removed when it started causing her pain. By the time she left the military, in June 2017, she had to have a hysterectomy, Harris said. She went into early menopause at 45 years old.

    Military doctors and Pentagon officials told BuzzFeed News they could not discuss specific cases, but insisted their priority is to maintain the health and well-being of all service members, men or women, so they can fulfill their mission.

    But the women who spoke to BuzzFeed News said that the “one size fits all” approach, from health care to body armor, simply does not work as the number of female service members continues to rise. For example, 12.3% of female recruits developed hip stress fractures compared to 2.4% of their male counterparts, partly because hip belts and the metal frames for their packs are designed for men’s bodies according to one analysis of US Army recruits. It cites a study — conducted more than 20 years ago — that suggested that female soldiers would not only be able to avoid injury but also close the time gap between them and male soldiers if packs could be designed for the female anatomy.

    Such experiences not only hurt female service members, but also damage the military as a whole in the long term, experts say.

    “The military invests in every single person that enters, man or woman, they lose just as much losing a woman as they do a man, from an investment perspective,” said Sarah Meadows, a senior sociologist at the RAND Corporation, the nonprofit think tank that was commissioned by the Pentagon for the upcoming study on female health issues in the military.

    It was a perspective echoed by more than a dozen US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Pentagon officials questioned by BuzzFeed News.

    “Anything that gets in the way of them being able to serve, just like any other soldier, is bad news for everyone,” one US Army recruiter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told BuzzFeed News in January,

    The US Army added eight new sizes of body armor to fit smaller sizes in 2016, and the Marine Corps is adding a helmet that accommodates women’s hair. Gen. Joe Dunford, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last year pressed the service branches to move more quickly to get the new body armor to female troops in the field.

    But there are increasing concerns that the lag in adapting to female service members’ medical needs may lead to women leaving military service at a time when the US military is struggling to recruit and retain service members.

    “This is important not just for warfighting but also for retention,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, told BuzzFeed News in an interview. After losing both her legs when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down in Iraq in 2004, she has been outspoken about the need to extend coverage of fertility treatments for wounded Veterans. She said she hopes the upcoming Pentagon study will provide more data and help fight the stigma around female service members’ health and infertility issues.

    “If we don’t address these issues, women are more likely to leave the military, and taxpayers lose a lot of money when skilled soldiers, airwomen, and sailors leave,” Duckworth said.

    “Girly Problem”

    Even women whose medical issues were not directly caused by their military service told BuzzFeed News they faced dismissiveness and negligence from military medical professionals that worsened their conditions and caused lasting, debilitating medical issues.

    One former Air Force medic, who asked not to be named, had an undiagnosed, rare genetic condition while in the military with symptoms that included pelvic pain. Even though she worked in the medical field, her pain was often dismissed by her colleagues as related to her period.

    “I was the only female officer in a fighter squadron, so it was all officers and all men, and here I was with this girly problem,” she said. Unlike the other servicewomen interviewed for this story, she said her problems weren’t even connected to her reproductive organs, “but if it’s that part of your body, they don’t want to know about it.”

    When the pain was at its peak in the early 2000s, a US military physician at the Royal Air Force Lakenheath base in the UK, which hosts US Air Force personnel, recommended she undergo an invasive surgery. He ended up performing the surgery incorrectly, she told BuzzFeed News, which resulted in lasting problems with urination and pelvic pain.

    “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re being ridiculous. Tough it out,” she said the doctor told her, assuring her the pain was normal. When she insisted, he refused to keep seeing her. She complained to the head of the hospital as well as the base commander, but is unaware of any action being taken.

    She never fully recovered from the misperformed surgery, and never went back to being active duty again.

    Similarly, Morgan had months of abdominal pain dismissed as menstrual cramps by the military doctors at Lakenheath starting in 2011, according to medical records reviewed by BuzzFeed News. A different OB-GYN at Lakenheath told her she had a “tender cervix” and was told “to take some aspirin,” she said. Weeks later, while on leave back in the US, she ended up doubled over in pain in a civilian ER. Doctors found she had a “baseball-sized cyst” on her ovary that had caused internal bleeding, and performed emergency surgery, according to her records.

    In the following years, as Morgan continued serving in the Air Force as a judge advocate, military doctors performed several exploratory surgeries, her medical records show, including having her right ovary removed. None of them made the pain better.

    “It’s hard not to take this personally and think, Maybe I’m the problem. Maybe I’m being a big baby,” Morgan told BuzzFeed News. “I started to doubt myself. It’s hard when keep having these encounters with medical professionals where they say nothing’s wrong. You start to think, Maybe I’m the crazy one.”

    In a statement, the commander of the 48th Medical Group at Lakenheath told BuzzFeed News that they take the care provided by the base’s OB-GYN clinic “very seriously” and that service members have several options to raise concerns, including patient advocates, email and survey feedback, and filing complaints about doctors and medical staff. Like other military officials contacted by BuzzFeed News, US Air Force Col. Thomas Stamp said he could not respond to questions on individual cases due to privacy laws.

    “Every Airman and civilian staff member working in our hospital is expected to operate at the highest level of professionalism, without exception,” he said. “They trust us to take care of them and in return we are committed to providing world-class healthcare.”

    One servicewoman, who asked to only be referred to by her middle name, YVette, described facing similar experiences with military doctors in the 1990s. She had chronic fibroids (uterine cysts) that caused her a lot of pain, she told BuzzFeed News, but during her time in the military they were repeatedly dismissed as period cramps. Like the others she was prescribed different kinds of birth control and painkillers, and eventually was accused of malingering, she said. By the time she was properly diagnosed by a civilian doctor, nearly 20 years after the pain started, the damage was so bad she had to have a hysterectomy. Another woman, who is currently serving in the Army and asked to remain anonymous, told BuzzFeed News a nearly identical story that happened last year.

    In mid-February the advocacy group SWAN brought Lipe and several other women to Capitol Hill to meet with the staff of 30 members of Congress about the medical and infertility issues facing servicewomen. Two weeks later, staffers for two Senate offices and one House office (who asked to remain anonymous as their offices were not yet ready to go public with this information) told BuzzFeed News there were ongoing discussions about including funding to research the issues brought up by the servicewomen in the next National Defense Authorization Act.

    Duckworth attributed much of the spotlight on the issue in recent years, including legislation and the upcoming study, to more women being in senior leadership roles both in the military and in Congress.

    These women in senior positions “looking out for these issues adds to the momentum that is just now starting to build when it comes to health in the military for women,” she said.

    Lipe and Morgan, both lawyers with prestigious positions in the military, said they were aware of the privilege their positions gave them as they battled for their medical issues and infertility to be taken seriously.

    “If this is my experience, I can’t even imagine what our younger enlisted officers are dealing with,” said Lipe, who had direct access to commanders throughout her infirmity. “I’m worried how many females enlisted who have had similar problems haven’t had a chance to voice them because they’re afraid to speak up, and don’t have the platform to do it.”

    A constant stream of reports have brought to light environmental health hazards service members may have been exposed to — lead poisoning in military base housing, water contaminants, burn pits — but a lack of research into how they might affect women’s health issues down the road, including fertility, means for many there’s nothing to do but wonder.

    “Am I a fluke? I mean, I don’t think I was exposed to a lot of chemicals or equipment or radiation, but I don’t know, a lot of women don’t know,” said Amanda Lurer, a 39-year-old US Navy chaplain who was told there was no medical explanation for her fertility problems when she started trying to conceive in her early thirties. After several expensive rounds of IVF, she was able to have a daughter, who is now 2.

    Like several female service members and lawmakers who spoke to BuzzFeed News, Lurer said she hopes the Pentagon’s upcoming study will provide some scientific data, and finally some answers.

    “It’s good they’re finally doing this, but the military moves at a glacial pace,” Lurer said. “Maybe if my daughter grows up and wants to enlist, there’s hope it’s a better one for her.”

    Source

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  • Women Vet Call Center

     

    The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) added a text messaging feature to the Women Veterans Call Center on April 23, providing another convenient way for women to seek information about VA benefits, health care and available resources.

    Women Veterans can now text 855-829-6636 to receive answers and guidance about VA services.

    “We want to make it as easy as possible for women Veterans to get answers about eligibility requirements, benefits, services and more,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “By offering new methods of communication, such as texting, we can reach more women Veterans and support their health care needs more quickly.”

    The Women Veterans Call Center is staffed by trained, compassionate female VA employees, who can provide and link callers to available resources, such as health care, benefits and cemetery information via phone, chat and now text. The new texting feature aligns this service with other VA call centers that provide information and assistance to Veterans who are in crisis, at risk for suicide and becoming homeless.

    VA works to meet the unique requirements of women, while offering privacy, dignity and sensitivity to gender-specific needs. Since April 2013, the call center has received nearly 83,000 inbound calls and has initiated almost 1.3 million outbound calls. As the number of women Veterans continues to grow, VA is expanding its outreach to ensure they receive enrollment and benefit information through means that are user-friendly and responsive.

    Women are among the fastest-growing Veteran demographics, accounting for more than 30% of the increase in Veterans who served between 2014 and 2018. The number of women using VA health care services has tripled since 2000, growing from about 160,000 to over 500,000 today. This continued growth underscores VA’s commitment to enhancing communication and outreach to the growing population of women Veterans.

    For more information about the Women Veterans Call Center, visit Women Veterans Health.

    Source

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  • Sexual assault 003

     

    The Defense Department in September released a first-of-its-kind study that estimates the risk of sexual assault service members face at different installations. The estimates were based on more than 170,000 survey responses service members completed in 2014 on whether they had personally experienced sexual assault. The data has limitations, but military officials will use it to help identify high-risk areas and see what additional steps can be taken to increase safety for men and women assigned there. The data is searchable by service, risk, location and estimated number of assaults.

    Service members can use the chart below, drawn from the detailed data tables published by RAND, to search for individual military installations and ships.

    The study conducted by the Rand Corporation includes two key measurements:

    Overall Sexual Assault Risk: This number indicates the average expected risk for the average men and women at the individual installations. For example, a 10 percent risk for sexual assault means it’s likely that one in 10 service members at that installation or ship will experience a sexual assault during the year. This number is affected by many factors, such as the age, rank or gender of the personnel assigned there. For example, installations with many younger, unmarried and junior ranking personnel (all risk factors) tend to have higher risk solely based on those demographic risk factors.

    Installation-specific risk: This number measures the risk for sexual assault that controls for all those personal factors and aims to more directly answer the question: Are individuals more at risk for a sexual assault here than elsewhere? This installation-specific risk may be associated with installation characteristics such as command climate, the community outside the gates of the installation, or other factors. A positive number indicates service members at that installation face an elevated risk for sexual assault, and a negative number indicates the risk there is lower than expected for a base of that size and demographic. For example, an installation with an installation-specific risk of 1 percent (or -1 percent) means that troops at that location are one percent more likely (or less likely) to experience a sexual assault compared to the average for a base of that size and demographic. To calculate installation-specific risk, RAND employed a number of analytical tools and computer models to create its best estimate on the probability a service member may face sexual assault at that location. The percentages reported are RAND’s best estimate based on its analysis of the 2014 survey data.

    Sexual assaults by service, gender and location

    (Click Source to view charts)

    Source

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  • MST Task Force

     

    The Defense Department has created a sexual assault task force to study and make recommendations on improving how the armed services handle and prosecute sex crimes.

    Pentagon officials said Tuesday that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan ordered the establishment of a Sexual Assault Accountability and Investigation Task Force on March 27. That was the day after a Pentagon advisory committee released a report finding disparities in documentation of sexual assault cases across the services. Among the discoveries were incomplete files on how commanders made prosecution decisions.

    The move also followed the January release of a report on sexual assaults at the service academies, which found that the estimated number of students who experienced unwanted sexual contact had increased 47 percent in the last two years.

    The task force includes Dr. Elizabeth Van Winkle, executive director of the DoD office of Force Resiliency, and the services' top lawyers, who will review the processes used by the military to investigate sexual assault charges and prosecute cases.

    The group will make recommendations "that will improve existing processes to address sexual assault while ensuring our formations, our communities, the rights of the victim and the accused and the integrity of the legal process are protected," Shanahan wrote in a memo to the service secretaries, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high-ranking Pentagon leaders.

    "The importance of this work cannot be overstated," Shanahan said. "Only through diligence and innovation will we eliminate this reprehensible crime from our ranks."

    Some Democrats in Congress have renewed efforts to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice to remove the authority for deciding whether to prosecute sexual assault cases from military commanders.

    Advocates for the change say it’s needed because the current system yields low prosecution and conviction rates and allows for retaliation against victims.

    But a panel appointed by Congress in 2013 to study the command authority issue concluded that the incidence rates of sexual assault would not be reduced by removing convening authority from commanders.

    That group, the Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel, also noted that, in the sexual assault investigation process, subordinate leaders such as noncommissioned officers and civilian supervisors were often the ones who ignored reports of sexual assault or retaliated against victims.

    "Training and accountability for these leaders is imperative," the panel noted.

    A different group, the Defense Advisory Committee on the Investigation, Prosecution and Defense of Sexual Assault, published its own report March 26. In the report, the group said it had reviewed 164 cases of penetrative sexual assault across the services and found that command decisions to refer charges were "reasonable" in 95% of the cases.

    But members also noted that documentation justifying the decisions was spotty across the services. The advisory committee recommended that services have standard requirements for documenting command disposition and furnishing rationale for each decision.

    Shanahan said the new task force's recommendations will complement the work of the advisory committee, and he pledged to continue preventing sexual assaults and supporting victims.

    In his letter, Shanahan said the report on the service academies report and discussions with Sen. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, a retired Air Force fighter pilot who revealed during a hearing March 6 that she had been raped as a junior officer, led to his decision to create the task force.

    "I pledged to do more, and I intend to carry out this commitment," Shanahan said. "Sexual assault impacts the entire force across all Military Services. None of us are immune to this crime and all of us are responsible."

    The task force is expected to provide its findings in a final report to Shanahan by April 30.

    Source

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  • DVA Logo 31

     

    The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) recognized a senior official from the U.S. Departmentof Veterans Affairs (VA) during a ceremony May 1 in Washington, D.C., for her contributions to improving women’s health research.

    The organization presented Dr. Carolyn Clancy, VA’s deputy under secretary for Health, for Discovery, Education and Affiliate Networks, with its Health Public Service Visionary Award during its annual awards dinner.

    “In recent years, VA has focused increasingly on serving the health care needs of women Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Dr. Clancy’s leadership in clinical care and research has been essential to the substantial progress VA has made in this area.”

    In her current role, Clancy works to foster collaboration among VA’s researchers, clinicians and the department’s academic affiliates. Under her leadership, VA has strengthened and broadened its scientific research — which now covers a woman’s entire lifespan. These efforts have increased research on primary care and prevention, reproductive health, intimate partner violence, mental health and post-deployment health for women Veterans.

    Clancy is an experienced health care executive, having served as director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality from 2003 to 2013.

    Currently, 1.9 million living female Veterans make up nearly 10% of the Veteran population.

    “As the fastest-growing segment within the U.S. Veteran population, young female Veterans have unique health care needs that must be recognized and addressed,” said Dr. Amy Miller, SWHR president and CEO. “In her many influential roles at VA, Dr. Clancy has enhanced access to and quality of care for women Veterans by helping to identify and remove barriers to their participation and care in VA’s health system.”

    Clancy said she is honored to be recognized by SWHR, noting that the organization has helped to elevate awareness of the urgent need for women’s health research.

    To learn more about VA research on women’s health, visit www.research.va.gov/topics/womens_health.cfm.

    Source

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  • Piece of Meat

     

    WASHINGTON — Corey Foster spent her Army career caring for wounded troops, both as a flight medic in the Iraq war and at Walter Reed hospital, so she looked forward to one of the most celebrated benefits of military service — health care for life from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Then she walked through the door at a V.A. medical center in Temple, Tex.

    “You felt like you were a piece of meat,” said Ms. Foster, 34, who retired as a sergeant. “Standing in line at the registration desk, I was getting comments from the male patients behind me, looking me up and down. It was a major source of discomfort.”

    The treatment was the same at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where Ms. Foster moved after living in Texas. At that point she gave up, and opted for her husband’s insurance outside the department. “They need to make the facilities not feel like an old soldier’s home,” Ms. Foster said.

    An entrenched, sexist culture at many Veterans hospitals is driving away female Veterans and lags far behind the gains women have made in the military in recent years, Veterans and lawmakers of both parties say. Although the Department of Veterans Affairs has scrambled to adjust to the rising population of female Veterans and has made progress — including hiring more women’s health care providers, fixing basic privacy problems in the exam rooms and expanding service to women in rural areas — sexual harassment at department facilities remains a major problem.

    Women say it is galling that such a demeaning atmosphere persists, especially for the roughly 30 percent of female Veterans who have reported being harassed or assaulted while serving in the military. That number includes Senator Martha McSally, Republican of Arizona, who spoke at a congressional hearing last week about being raped by a superior officer while serving in the Air Force.

    “Changing the culture has been an ongoing, overarching goal,” said Dr. Patricia Hayes, the chief consultant for Women’s Health Services at the Veterans agency. “We want women Veterans to feel respected and safe and secure.”

    At a recent hearing with Veterans agency officials on Capitol Hill, Representative John Carter, Republican of Texas, described the treatment of female constituents trying to obtain V.A. health care. “It’s like a construction site,” he said.

    Mr. Carter cited the same medical center in Texas that Ms. Foster had used — and noted that the Women’s Trauma Recovery Center within it was moved last year to a female-only facility in Waco so that women, who said they feared for their safety, could receive treatment without facing harassment.

    Representative Will Hurd, Republican of Texas, was visibly frustrated as he described women abandoning the center in his district because of harassment. “This is the biggest concern I hear from female Veterans,’’ he said.

    While the number of women using Veteran health services has tripled since 2000 — to about 500,000 from 159,810 — they still make up only 8 percent of all users of health care at the V.A. Officials expect that the number will increase. Two million women are in the American Veteran population, or about 10 percent, and yet they make up 16 percent of the active-duty military force.

    “I believe that we still have a tsunami wave of women Vets coming in,” said Dr. Hayes, of Veterans Affairs.

    For now, many female Veterans say they are made to feel as if they do not belong at the V.A., as they describe front-desk employees asking for a husband’s Social Security number when they check in or being passed over for items like complimentary coffee, which employees say are “for Vets.”

    “It’s hard to walk into a place and feel like everyone is looking at you wondering why you are there,” said Kristen Rouse, 45, founding director of the NYC Veterans Alliance, who described a sense of loss every time she glanced at the department’s motto affixed to her center in New York City: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” Her organization supports changing the motto.

    “Over the 24 years I have served my country, I have never been any of those,” said Ms. Rouse, who remains a reservist in the Army. “And I never will be.” (That portion of the motto, coined by President Lincoln, is now the subject of legislation.)

    Some centers, like the one in Washington, have removed benches from entryways so that men no longer have a place to linger and badger women, or have created separate facilities, like the one in Texas. Every center now has at least two providers focused on women’s health and nearly 6,000 providers have been trained in the practice; about 98 percent of them are women.

    While the V.A. is still trying to address the needs of pregnant Veterans — the centers do not provide full obstetrics care on site — many of the centers across the country now have baby showers around Mother’s Day, offering diapers and other baby supplies.

    Yet the culture remains an impediment for many.

    Brandy Baxter, who served as a senior airman in the Air Force, loves the care she receives at the women’s health clinic through the Veterans Affairs center in Dallas. But she hates the elevator ride to get there.

    “The male Vets give me the once over with their eyes,” she said. “I look them right in the eye, just to tell them, ‘I’m checking your height, your weight, your skin color — just in case I need to report you.’ ”

    This year, the House Veterans Affairs Committee will establish a task force to address women’s health care, and harassment issues are expected to be front and center. “This is about the physical transformation of our facilities,” said Representative Mark Takano, Democrat of California and the new chairman of the committee.

    A model for what women’s health care can be is on display at the Jesse Brown V.A. Medical Center in Chicago, where the vast majority of doctors and staff members are women. The five exam rooms and waiting area are only for women, and beyond offering basic health care, the center offers women a number of programs like a golf team, a weight loss group and art therapy.

    “I think women Veterans really want programming that speaks to their entire identity,” said Jenny Sitzer, the coordinator for women at the center.

    Staff members wear badges that read, “My name is not ‘Hey baby,’” and banners all over the campus feature the faces of female Veterans describing the pain of being harassed on their way through the broader V.A.

    Lori Brown, 58, is grateful for all these services, but most of all for the ability to walk into the medical center without facing harassment, and to have only women for her care. “I can allow myself to be who I am in front of the doctor or nurse and not be intimidated by men,” said Ms. Brown, who was an Army sergeant.

    Many other challenges face the V.A., like a shortage of providers for specialty services. Some women say they still struggle to get all of their birth control needs fulfilled at some facilities, and complex laws governing certain fertility treatments remain another area of complaint.

    Many women do not use the medical facilities because they lack child care, which the department is largely not legally able to provide. Another issue is reaching homeless female Veterans, a serious problem that also affects the male population.

    Women also have mental health care needs — over 40 percent of female Veterans who use the V.A. are diagnosed with at least one mental health condition, compared with about 25 percent of men.

    Bills touching on these issues are expected to come up in this Congress, and some Veterans’ organizations have made services for women a top legislative priority, especially Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, all in the name of making the V.A. a better place for women.

    “One must be persistent,” Dr. Hayes said. “Culture change does not happen overnight. We want to continue to get the message to women that we want you here.”

    Source

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  • Rehab Employment

     

    The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program (VR&E) recently began the process of reducing the average counselor-to-caseload ratio, to one to 125 or below, through the hiring of 172 vocational rehabilitation counselors (VRCs).

    The hiring effort, which began early this summer, will help improve service to Veterans with service-connected disabilities and employment barriers, as well as help provide them with expedited services to improve their ability to transition to the civilian workforce.

    “The VR&E program is much more than a benefits program,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It’s a vital support network, where VA’s expert counselors work closely with Veterans on their personalized vocational rehabilitation goals. Congressional funding enables us to expand our team of counselors who are on the ground across the country working tirelessly for Veterans, and we appreciate their support.”

    VA is committed to ensuring its counselors have manageable caseloads and the resources needed to ensure Veterans are receiving thorough, quality services.

    Currently, 941 counselors are working across VA’s 56 regional offices, as well as in out-based and satellite locations.

    Once hiring is complete for the additional 172 counselors, a total of 1,113 VRCs will be deployed in the field to serve Veterans. This includes 905 VRCs at regional and out-based offices, 132 Integrated Disability Evaluation System counselors at 71 military installations and 76 Veteran Success on Campus counselors at 105 institutions of higher learning.

    Since 2014, over 56,000 Veterans have either completed a rehabilitation plan, are employed or have achieved a greater independence in living through VR&E assistance. The VR&E program currently has more than 123,000 participants. For more information about VR&E, visit www.benefits.va.gov/vocrehab/.

    Source

    #Veterans #military #employment #Veteransaffairs

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  • Women Vets 004

     

    Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it will celebrate the start of Women’s History Month in March with a kickoff event on March 6, from 2-4 p.m. at the Women in Military Service for America (WIMSA) Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.

    Sponsored by VA’s Center for Women’s Veterans, the event will feature 15 women Veterans representing all branches of military service in a 2019 campaign titled “Trailblazers: Women Breaking Barriers,” celebrating the contributions of women Veterans in honor of Women’s History Month and continuing through the rest of the year.

    “Women Veterans are one of the fastest growing demographics within VA, and will represent nearly 20 percent of the U.S. Veteran population by 2045,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA is proud to serve all our nation’s Veterans, and the Center for Women Veterans does a great job reminding all Americans of the strong service and sacrifice of women Veterans through these innovative campaigns.”

    The following women will be featured in the Trailblazers campaign:

    • Robinann Alex, U.S. Navy; Pappilion, Nebraska
    • Cathy Bennett-Santos, U.S. Army; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    • Patricia Collins, U.S. Army; Alexandria, Virginia
    • Diana Danis, U.S. Army; Bloomington, Nebraska
    • Kyleanne Hunter, U.S. Marine Corps, Leesburg, Virginia
    • Michele Jones, U.S. Army; Jacksonville, Florida
    • Judy Keene, U.S. Coast Guard; Washington, D.C.
    • Ginger Miller, U.S. Navy; Accokeek, Maryland
    • Tonja Myles, U S. Army; Zachary, Louisiana
    • Amanda Plante, U.S. Navy; Santee, California
    • Linda Singh, Army National Guard; Bowie, Maryland
    • Cassie Strom, U.S. Air Force; St. Louis, Missouri
    • Wilma Vaught, U.S. Air Force; Falls Church, Virginia
    • Melissa Washington, U.S. Navy; Lincoln, California
    • Tanya Whitney, U.S. Army; Sorrento, Louisiana

    The campaign will provide a platform for the featured women to share stories about their military service and how their unique experiences in uniform led to their continued roles as leaders and advocates in their communities.

    The event is open to the public. Please RSVP to join VA in celebrating these women Veteran Trailblazers. Registration deadline for the event is March 5.

    Participants and invitees are invited to explore WIMSA’s exhibits and learn more about women’s service in the military by visiting www.womensmemorial.org.

    For more information about the Center for Women Veterans and the Trailblazers Initiative, visit www.va.gov/womenVetor contact Alohalani Bullock-Jones at /My%20Documents/VFC%20Newsletters/This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

    The Trailblazers campaign is sponsored in part by Veteran Canteen Services, whose mission includes emphasizing the importance of service to Veterans and supporting VA’s overall mission. For more information about VCS, visit www.vacanteen.va.gov or www.shopvcs.com.

    Source

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  • Website Updates 002 

  • Walter Daniel

     

    Navy Lt. Rebekah Daniel bled to death after childbirth in a military hospital in 2014. But her husband, Walter, cannot sue because of a 1950 law.

    More than four years after Navy Lt. Rebekah Daniel bled to death within hours of childbirth at a Washington state military hospital, her husband still doesn’t know exactly how — or why — it happened.

    Walter Daniel, a former Coast Guard officer, demanded explanations from officials at the Naval Hospital Bremerton, where his wife, known as Moani, died on March 9, 2014.

    He says he got none. No results from a formal review of the incident, no details about how the low-risk pregnancy of a healthy 33-year-old woman — a labor and delivery nurse herself — ended in heartbreak, leaving their newborn daughter, Victoria, now 4, without a mom.

    “There was no timeline, no records of what steps were taken,” recalled Daniel, 39, sitting in his Seattle lawyer’s office last month. “I’ve had no answers.”

    Daniel, who now lives in Dublin, Calif., filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in 2015, but it was dismissed, as were subsequent appeals.

    The dismissals were based not on the facts of the case but on what’s known as the Feres doctrine, a 68-year-old federal ruling that bars active-duty military members from suing the federal government for injuries.

    This week, Daniel is taking his quest for answers to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Through his lawyer, he petitioned the high court on Thursday to amend the 1950 ruling, creating an exception that would allow service members to sue for medical malpractice the same way civilians can.

    The military health system, with 54 hospitals and 377 medical clinics, serves about 9.4 million beneficiaries, including nearly 1.4 million active-duty members.

    “I don’t want this to happen to any other family,” Daniel said.

    The Supreme Court hasn’t considered the Feres doctrine in more than 30 years, since the 1987 case U.S. v. Johnson, where the justices ruled 5-4 to uphold the ruling. That decision drew a scathing dissent from Justice Antonin Scalia, who declared that the rule should be scrapped.

    “Feres was wrongly decided and heartily deserves the widespread, almost universal criticism it has received,” Scalia famously wrote.

    Since then, however, the court has refused to accept at least two petitions that would have allowed reconsideration of Feres. And chances are slim now. Of the 7,000 to 8,000 cases submitted to the Supreme Court each term, only about 80 are accepted.

    But Daniel and his lawyer, Andrew Hoyal of the Luvera law firm in Seattle, insist that the circumstances of Moani Daniel’s death warrant new scrutiny.

    “We thought if we’re ever going to take a shot at the Feres doctrine, this is the case to do it,” Hoyal said. “It was clear negligence. It was an awful situation. And every civilian in the country would be able to bring a lawsuit to get accountability, except for members of the service.

    “She was treated differently because she had lieutenant’s bars.”

    Daniel disputes the findings of a Navy autopsy concluding that Rebekah Daniel died of “natural” causes possibly linked to an amniotic fluid embolism, a rare, hard-to-prove complication of childbirth.

    Daniel claims that his wife — who worked in the maternity unit where she delivered her baby — died from botched medical care that failed to stop her from hemorrhaging nearly a third of the blood in her body.

    “It was utter chaos,” he recalled. “I remember multiple towels and sponges like they were trying to soak up the blood … but it kept coming.”

    Doctors failed to perform vital tests, to employ an obstetrical balloon — a standard device used to halt postpartum hemorrhage — and to start massive blood transfusions until too late, court documents claim.

    Just four hours after the birth of her 8-pound, 7-ounce daughter, Moani was dead.

    “I was in shock,” recalled Daniel.

    Capt. Jeffrey Bitterman, commanding officer of Naval Hospital Bremerton, said in an email that the circumstances of Moani’s death were “thoroughly examined in a quality review process.” The results of the review cannot be publicly released, he said, declining to comment further because of pending litigation.

    However, in a press release promoting the Aloha Moani 5K run organized in Daniel’s honor, Navy officials publicly said she died “due to a rare complication of childbirth.”

    Walter and Moani Daniel, who met in Hawaii, had been married nearly a decade when she became pregnant in 2013. Moani had a son, Damien, now 19, from a previous marriage.

    Moani loved her job, but she had submitted her resignation to the Navy months earlier and was set to leave the service in April 2014. Walter had accepted a job in Northern California, where he had moved with Damien to get him settled in school.

    The day after his wife’s death, Walter returned to her empty apartment.

    “She had all this stuff for the baby set up,” he recalled. “I’m like, ‘What the hell just happened?’ It was like a nightmare.’”

    The Feres doctrine holds that active-duty members of the military cannot sue under the Federal Tort Claims Act for harm “incident to service.” The justices wanted to ensure that Congress would not be “burdened with private bills on behalf of military and naval personnel.”

    They reasoned then that the military provides comprehensive relief for injuries or death of service members and their families — and that there’s no parallel with private liability because the relationship between the government and its armed forces is distinct. Later, the court insisted that a primary reason for barring such lawsuits is to maintain military discipline.

    But the decision, particularly the definition of “incident to service,” has been debated fiercely for years by scholars and, at least twice, in bills before Congress.

    The rule has been interpreted to include not just military duty, but virtually any activity of an active-duty service member, said Richard Custin, a clinical professor of business law and ethics at the University of San Diego.

    “It’s just grossly unfair,” he said. “Childbirth is not a military activity. It’s clearly not ‘incident to service.’ ”

    Custin and other critics claim that the Feres doctrine strips military members of a constitutional right to seek redress for grievances, while also allowing military hospitals and doctors to escape scrutiny for negligent care.

    Military hospitals reported 545 so-called sentinel events — medical omissions or errors — from 2014 to 2017, according to Defense Health Agency data. In 2014, Naval Hospital Bremerton reported at least one case of postpartum hemorrhage or hysterectomy.

    But such reports aren’t public, so Daniel doesn’t know whether his wife’s case was included in those records. A 2014 review of military health care found that the rate of postpartum hemorrhage was consistently higher in military hospitals than the national average, Hoyal noted.

    “What they do in the medical arena is no different than what civilian hospitals do, and they should be held to the same standards as civilian hospitals and civilian doctors,” Hoyal said.

    Officials with the Department of Defense declined interview requests regarding the Feres ruling.

    In an email, however, an agency spokeswoman said overturning the rule would “destroy the premise” of no-fault workers’ compensation available in the military and elsewhere. It would also “create an unsustainable inequity” between military members allowed to sue and others, such as those injured in combat, who couldn’t.

    And, rather than improving military health care, overturning Feres would “compromise its effectiveness,” the agency said, noting: “No medical system is perfect.”

    Custin, the law professor, said he sympathizes with Daniel, but isn’t optimistic that the court will view the case differently than other medical malpractice claims.

    “What this attorney needs to do is somehow distinguish Daniel from the long line of victims that have been maligned by Feres,” he said.

    Hoyal intends to argue that the Supreme Court’s rulings regarding Feres have been inconsistent and irreconcilable. In decisions that followed Feres, the court rejected its own “parallel liability” argument, said Hoyal. And it has never ruled that medical decisions like those at stake in Daniel’s case would undermine military discipline.

    “In short, the legal landscape has undergone a sea change since 1950,” Hoyal’s petition states. “Theories once central to Feres no longer matter. Rationales not considered in Feres are now central.”

    Such an argument may well sway an increasingly conservative Supreme Court that now includes justices loyal to Scalia’s views — as well as progressives inclined to support workers’ rights, said Dwight Stirling, chief executive of the Center for Law and Military Policy, a Southern California think tank.

    “The Feres doctrine does not divide the court members on your standard ideological grounds,” he said. “It tends to scramble the typical calculus.”

    Walter Daniel hopes so. After raising Victoria as a single dad for four years, he left the Coast Guard, recently remarried and returned to college to study to become a high school teacher. Even as his life moves on, he said, he hopes that Moani’s case will provide justice for others.

    “It’s not about the Daniel family, it’s about those thousands of service members throughout the world who are affected by this rule,” he said. “That’s what our fight is for.”

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  • Women and depression

     

    Imagine having feelings of worthlessness or helplessness. Imagine being unable to sleep, feeling restless and irritable much of the time, or even hiding under the covers afraid to face the day. Many who suffer from depression may not be able to concentrate at work or perhaps even get to work. Those experiencing high- and low-functioning depression know such feelings all too well.

    But for women, there are certain times in their lives when a depression diagnosis is more common. Research has shown that hormonal changes at three stages of life—puberty, post-pregnancy, and during perimenopause—may trigger clinical depression.

    Dr. Nancy Skopp, research psychologist at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence, described clinical depression, or major depressive disorder, as a depressed mood lasting at least two weeks and marked by a loss of interest in things that once were pleasurable. She noted that this period would contain a clear change from previous functioning. If someone isn’t completing work duties, shows up late for work, or experiences profound fatigue and avoids interaction with family and friends, depression could be the cause.

    “Depression symptoms in women often occur around a reproductive event,” said Skopp, adding that there is some evidence that suggests women may have a chronic and recurrent course with longer and more frequent episodes than men.

    Skopp cited statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health showing that 50-80 percent of new mothers may experience the “baby blues,” which usually appear about a week after giving birth and include feeling down, irritability, sleep problems, anxiety, and eating too much or too little. The difference is that the symptoms are mild and usually resolve in a week or two.

    Postpartum depression is much more serious, Skopp said. Between 10 and 20 percent of new mothers experience depression, according to NIMH statistics. Symptoms of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion may make it difficult to complete daily activities as a new mother.

    During perimenopause, usually between the ages of 40 and 50, when the ovaries gradually begin to make less estrogen, depressive symptoms combine with menopausal symptoms. Women may also experience other life challenges, such as the demands of caring for aging parents, a change in marital status, health problems, or negative attitudes about aging. Skopp said although men may experience similar stresses at midlife, the hormonal changes experienced by women may compound such stresses. “It’s a very challenging time,” she said.

    Approximately 12 million women in the United States experience clinical depression each year, with one in eight experiencing depression in her lifetime, according to NIMH research. This rate of depression corresponds to hormonal changes in women, particularly during these three life stages, suggesting that female hormonal fluctuations may be a trigger for depression. Another trigger may be gender differences between women and men, which may be genetic or involve life stressors and coping styles.

    Skopp says research shows women may have a greater tendency to internalize in the face of depressive symptoms. Men appear to be more likely than women to cope with such symptoms through behavioral distraction, such as doing something that takes the mind off depressive feelings. The result appears to be that more active distraction in men may shorten or prevent a depressive episode whereas internalization in women may prolong it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that between 2013 and 2016, 10.4 percent of women experienced depression compared to 5.5 percent of men.

    “Being in the military can magnify the depression triggers one might experience in the general population,” said Navy Cmdr. Paulette Cazares, associate director for mental health at the Naval Medical Center San Diego.

    “The benefit of seeing depression as any other illness allows service members to realize the necessity of early treatment, and the ability to stay focused on career and personal goals,” Cazares said. “Psychotherapy or antidepressant medications are first-line options to treat depression and reduce chances of a relapse. Meditation and yoga as therapy have also been used successfully to alleviate depressive symptoms.”

    If you have symptoms of depression, talk to your health care provider. A loved one showing symptoms should be encouraged to speak to a health care provider as well. Military OneSource also has resources and information available for service members and their families.

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  • Women Vets 002

     

    The Ohio Department of Veterans Services will help celebrate Women’s History Month’s significance when five Ohio women Veterans come together to tell their stories and share their experiences of life in the military and beyond – and how service to the nation and their communities helped shape their world today.

    The panel discussion will be held on March 22 at 11 a.m. at the Ohio History Connection, 800 E. 17th Ave. in Columbus. The general public is encouraged to attend this free event entitled “Women Veterans: Their Service Continues.”

    Additionally, in coordination with Vietnam Veterans Day, Vietnam-era Veterans are encouraged to attend so they can be formally presented with a special commemorative lapel pin. ODVS Director Deborah Ashenhurst will share remarks expressing the importance of honoring Vietnam Veterans.

    The women Veterans’ discussion will include the following topics:

    • Their motivations for joining the military;
    • Their challenges and opportunities in training and war;
    • Their continued mission of service after service through volunteerism, advocacy, professional distinction and public service;
    • Their life lessons in tenacity and adaptability.The following distinguished women Veterans will participate on the panel:
    • Emcee Angela Beltz, Army, chair of the Ohio Women Veterans Advisory Committee;
    • Moderator Claudia Foss, Air Force, vice chair of the Ohio Women Veterans Advisory Committee;* Panelists:

    Deborah Ashenhurst

    Cassie Barlow

    Rebecca O’Connor

    Dana Robinson-Street

    Nancy Schools

    Admission to the Ohio History Connection for the panel discussion is free for Veterans and military members. Other guests who mention the panel discussion while purchasing tickets will receive a $2 discount rate – $8 for adults, $7 for seniors (60 and over) and $3 for children ages 6-12. Group rates also are available. Members and children 5 and under may enter for free; parking is free.

    The event is open to the public. No reservation is necessary.

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  • Women Veterans Stress

     

    Despite good food, bright lights, and cheer, the holidays come with stress. The pressures, particularly on women, to cook special meals, give gifts, and decorate can be too much. If you are a woman Veteran who has recently left the service, the strain of it all can be particularly tough.

    Holiday stress and readjusting after deployments and long absences from home can be hard. But VA is here to help. Vet Centers across the U.S. offer readjustment counseling services. Here, there is no shame in getting the help you might need.

    Here are a few VA resources that offer support:

    • Readjustment counseling services are available at Vet Centers nationwide for combat Veterans, service members, and their families. This includes family counseling for military related issues, bereavement counseling for families who experience an active duty death, military sexual trauma counseling, and referrals.
    • VA Self-Help Apps, such as PTSD Coach, PTSD Family Coach, and Mindfulness Coach, can help you cope with symptoms related to PTSD and depression. Visit the VA App Store to learn more: https://mobile.va.gov/appstore.
    • 877-WAR-VETS (877-927-8387) Combat Call Center is a 24/7 confidential service connecting Veterans with combat Veteran staff so you can speak in private with someone who understands your challenges.

    If you need to talk to someone this holiday season, VA is here to help. For additional information about VA’s readjustment services, contact the Women Veterans Call Center at 1-855-VA-WOMEN (1-855-829-6636). To find a Vet center near you, visit https://bit.ly/2FmM0hM

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  • Women Vets Health 001

     

    Treating women Veterans

    Patty Axtell, RN, and Suzanne Rainforth, LPN, (pictured above) practice pelvic exam supply setup with instructor Jonna Brenton, RN, at Grand Island VAMC. The number of women Veterans is increasing rapidly. Consequently, the number of women Veterans receiving health care from VA tripled from between 2000 and 2016, growing from 160,000 in 2000 to 475,000 in 2016, driving an increase in need for high-quality, gender-specific health care.

    As of May 2017, 26 percent of enrolled women Veterans lived in rural and highly rural areas. These are areas in need of more trained primary care providers designated as Women’s Health Primary Care Providers (WH-PCPs) and nursing staff trained in women’s health.

    Since 2008, the Women’s Health Services (WHS) has developed and delivered a comprehensive education and training model for clinical staff, called the Women’s Health Mini-Residency, to address gaps in knowledge and skills in women’s health topics. This training is traditionally a three-day, face-to-face program offered 1-2 times per year in Orlando, Florida.

    Although more than 3,500 PCPs and 1,200 primary care nurses trained in this mini-residency model, additional training needs persist, including for staff in rural VA facilities.

    WHS understands that rural VA clinics, with fewer staff, may face challenges sending staff off-site for training without disrupting normal clinic operations. Travel from rural areas also means more time away from clinical care.

    Bringing the training to clinic sites

    To better support women Veterans’ long-term health and well-being, address staff training need and minimize the burden on the clinic and staff, WHS, funded by the Office of Rural Health (ORH), launched a blended learning approach to the Women’s Health Mini-Residency intended for providers and nurses at rural Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOC) and VA medical centers (VAMC) by bringing this training program directly to clinic sites. This modified mini-residency includes:

    • Core women’s health courses on topics such as abnormal uterine bleeding, contraception, breast issues and intimate partner violence offered via the Veteran Affairs’ Talent Management System (TMS) and done independently in advance of the one-day training delivered directly at clinic sites
    • Tailored one-day on-site training includes interactive portions of the program such as facilitated case discussions, simulation equipment for hands-on activities, videos of gynecologic procedures and exams, and live models for breast and pelvic exam instruction

    Patient-Aligned Care Team (PACT) providers and nurses train side-by-side in this inter-professional training program, which aligns with how care is provided. In all, each provider and nurse will receive more than 18 hours of accredited medical training. Launched June 2018, in partnership with ORH, WHS will provide this mini-residency for rural providers and nurses in up to 40 rural clinical sites per year to support the highest level of care for women Veterans in rural areas.

    If you have any questions about the Women’s Health Mini-Residency for Rural Providers and Nurses, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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  • Natl Health Museum

     

    As docents at the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM), Sara and David Handwerker will point out an adult female pelvis in the museum’s “Human Identification” exhibit to visitors. That kind of specimen shares a connection to their own professional histories as doctors: more than 30 years of experience in obstetrics/gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine. NMHM is especially grateful for their volunteerism in October, when women’s health gets special attention in the Military Health System (MHS). NMHM is a Department of Defense museum.

    October 2018 is also a service anniversary for the Handwerkers: four years of devoting their time to the medical museum’s visitors. The couple retired from New York City government hospitals several years ago and relocated to the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area to live near family. They joined the museum’s volunteer corps in October 2014, motivated by a love for history and medicine.

    The Handwerkers clearly enjoy volunteerism; this spring, Sara received a special pin from the museum and a Bronze Presidential Service Award from the Army Volunteer Corps (AVC) in appreciation for 163 hours of dedication and service at NMHM in 2017, the most time any docent devoted to the museum last year. David also received the AVC’s Bronze Presidential Service Award for providing 104 service hours to NMHM in 2017. They were recognized for guiding tours and assisting with educational programs.

    During Women’s Health Month in October, the MHS reminds women to be proactive in addressing their health issues and have regularly-scheduled visits to their health care provider. Both museum volunteers support the MHS message. They encourage women to engage in preventive care and talk with their health care providers; as doctors, they treated women with undiagnosed infections or breast cancer, and women who became ill while pregnant due to untreated conditions.

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  • PTSD Women

     

    There are far more men than women Veterans in the VA system. For this reason, many women Veterans are not aware of resources offered just for them. Many women Veterans prefer treatment with other women.

    Research shows that people often do better in treatment with others that are more like them. As a result, mental health services just for women are offered in many VA’s across the country.

    VA Women Veterans Program Managers

    Every VA Medical Center in the country has a Women Veterans Program Manager. This person is your advocate. She can help you get to VA services and programs, state and federal benefits, and resources in the area where you live.

    If you need help:

    If you have questions about your VA care, you should first go to your Women Veterans Program Manager. During normal business hours, you can also contact:

    • The Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Women Veterans at (202) 273-6193
    • The Veterans Health Administration Women Veterans Health Strategic Health Care Group at (202) 461-1070

    Types of VA programs for women

    The following list describes some of the mental health service programs offered by VA for women Veterans. To find out more, see VA PTSD Treatment Programs. The fact sheet links to a list of VA PTSD treatment programs. The list includes programs for women, with contact information. For other help locating a program or service, you should ask your Women Veterans Program Manager.

    • Women's Stress Disorder Treatment Teams (WSDTTs). WSDTTs are special outpatient (not live-in) mental health programs. They focus on treatment of PTSD and other problems related to trauma.
    • Specialized inpatient and residential programs for women. These are live-in programs for women Veterans who need more intense treatment and support. While in these programs, women live either in the hospital or in a residence with other women. For help locating a program, ask your Women Veterans Program Manager.
    • Cohort treatment or separate wings for women. These programs are like the live-in programs discussed above except these programs accept both men and women. Some programs accept women in groups that start treatment together on a certain date. Sometimes the program has a space set apart for women.
    • Women Veterans Comprehensive Health Centers. Complete health centers for women Veterans are located in many VA's around the country. Many of them provide outpatient mental health services to women Veterans. Check with your local Women Veterans Program Manager to see if there is a women's health center that provides mental health services near you.
    • Women Veterans Homelessness Programs. The Women Veterans Program can help you find shelter if you are homeless or at risk of being homeless. Certain VA locations have programs for homeless women Veterans and homeless women Veterans with children. Contact your Women Veterans Program Manager for resources near you. You can also contact the Social Work Services department at your local VAMC. For more information, go to Homeless Veterans.

    For more information

    To learn more about women and traumatic stress, please see this section of materials Specific to Women.

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  • Martha McSally AZ R

     

    WASHINGTON — More female Veterans are running for Congress this November than ever before. A total of 14 women are competing in congressional contests next month, and polling so far suggests several are likely to win new seats.

    If so, it could dramatically increase the number of female Veterans from the four currently in Congress today. Two of them — Republican Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst and Democratic Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth — are guaranteed to return, since they don’t face re-election this year.

    Here are five races with female Veterans to watch on election night:

    Martha McSally, Republican,Arizona Senate

    McSally, a former Air Force pilot who currently serves in the House, is in one of the most tightly contested Senate races in the country, one that could decide which party controls the upper chamber next year. Recent polls have given her a slight edge heading into the final days of campaigning.

    In her four years in office, McSally has already carved out a role as a vocal member of the House Armed Services Committee. If she wins a Senate seat, she would likely join Ernst as a senior female voice for Senate Republicans on a host of defense and Veterans issues.

    Mikie Sherrill, Democrat,New Jersey 11th

    Sherrill, a former Navy lieutenant commander, is vying to replace retiring Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen. Recent polls show her ahead, a result that could help her party gain a majority in the House.

    She has received significant support from Veterans groups, women’s advocates and other left-leaning resources. But she has also talked extensively on the campaign trail about her background as a helicopter pilot and federal prosecutor, and should could emerge as a key national security voice for Democrats in Congress next year.

    Chrissy Houlahan, Democrat,Pennsylvania 6th

    Like Sherrill, Houlahan — a former Air Force captain — is favored to win in a congressional seat currently held by a Republican (Rep. Ryan Costello). Pennsylvania is a key election battleground every two years, and following redistricting mandated by the Supreme Court earlier this year, Democrats are anticipating big gains in the state’s races.

    Given her advantage in recent polls and in fundraising over the last few months, Houlahan’s seat appears to be a must-win for Democrats if they hope to shift the balance of power in the House.

    Amy McGrath, Democrat,Kentucky 6th

    McGrath, a former Marine Corps pilot who flew combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, could serve as an early indicator on election night as to whether Democrats can take control of the House. Kentucky is among the first polls nationwide to close, and the race results could be made public early.

    She trails in most polls in the decidedly Republican district but has seen a significant influx of outside money in support of her. She’s also received direct criticism in recent weeks from President Donald Trump, who labeled her “an extreme liberal chosen by (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi,” an attack that could help or hurt her depending on voters’ November mood.

    Gina Ortiz Jones, Democrat,Texas 23rd

    Jones, an Air Force Veteran who served in Iraq, is a long-shot to upset incumbent Republican Rep. Will Hurd. But her experience and campaign work has raised her profile significantly, and she could secure an upset victory if Democratic turnout in Texas outpaces expectations.

    If so, she would become the first out lesbian Veteran in Congress and the first Filipina-American to represent Texas there. She has spoken on the campaign trail about her experience serving under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, and has argued that many of Trump’s military policies have weakened national security.

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