26 September 2014

How can the VA and DoD close the gap in supporting women in uniform?


As the number of women and their influence in the military continues to grow, so should the armed forces’ attention and care for them. The Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD) certainly need improvement in supporting all our service members and veterans, but especially for women. A recent Disabled American Veterans (DAV) report shows service gaps for women in health care, transition services, disability compensation, employment and housing.

Right now, one in four VA hospitals do not have a full-time gynecologist on staff, and 140 of the 920 community-based clinics serving veterans in rural areas do not have a designated women's health provider. The DAV report also found female veterans of child-bearing age were far more likely to be given medications that can cause birth defects than were women being treated through a private doctor. All VA centers should have at least a part-time specialist available to treat female-specific needs.

Addressing unemployment and homelessness is another area the VA needs to create more gender-specific services. Post-9/11 female veterans have higher unemployment rates than male veterans and non-veteran women. Female veterans are at least twice as likely to be homeless as non-veteran women. Establishing transition support catered to each gender would help all veterans face the difficult process. It may be nearly impossible for all regions across the country to create female veteran support groups, but virtual live chat rooms is an option that may be worth exploring.

The DoD needs to also embrace gender-specific support, so women are properly supported before they transition. Many female service members want to get married, start families and be a part of every little thing in their kids’ lives. Committing to the armed forces makes starting a family and establishing a work and life balance very difficult. The military certainly sees the value in having and increasing the number of female service members with more being done to support this front. The Navy has recently started its family friendly policy of giving women a year off whenever they want, without any penalty or change in status. Women can use this time during pregnancy and after. Other military branches have yet to follow this policy, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The fact of the matter is women have different needs than men. They are impacted by military service and deployment differently from men. More gender-specific care needs to be provided across the VA and DoD. This would not only benefit female service members and veterans, but male service members and veterans as well. What areas in the VA and DoD need gender-specific improvement? Does the fact that the military is still predominantly male make it more difficult for the armed forces to cater to women in uniform? How can the VA and DoD establish more balanced services and policies?

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

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