USA: Need for Services Expands

Sunday, September 19, 2010
Courier Post Online
North America
United States of America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security

As more women join the military, they need services that range from medical and psychological treatment to homeless prevention and housing.

Female veterans have unique issues that are gender-related, military and Veterans Affairs officials say.

To that end, Virtua Health has developed a proposal to promote awareness of expanded services for female vets available from both Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense.

The Marlton-based hospital system wants to create a collaborative VA-DOD Women Veterans and Service Members Joint Health Resource Center. The operation would be in conjunction with the Warrior Transition Program at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington and Ocean counties.

A grant of $3 million to start the program was passed by the House Appropriation Subcommittee on Defense but is awaiting House and Senate action. The money is part of the proposed $671 billion defense appropriation bill for fiscal year 2011.

"As more women enroll in the armed forces, there is a growing need for gender specific care," said Rep. John Adler, D-N.J., who was able to secure the funding.

Richard Miller, Virtua's CEO, said the $3 million would fund phase one of the project. It would allow Virtua to perform a study of the issues and develop outreach to educate female veterans about programs within the VA and supplemental resources in Burlington and surrounding counties.

Miller said that will include information ranging from routine obstetric and gynecological care to traumatic brain injury.

Estimates are the number of women using VA services will nearly double with the new generation of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since the war on terrorism began in Iraq in 2003, the VA has expanded medical, counseling and other programs for women but it wants further outreach and referral, said VA spokeswoman Laurie Tranter.

While VA statistics reveal nearly a half-million women have registered for VA benefits, less than 300,000 have enrolled in its programs, with the gap widening every year since 1999. The VA provided health care to more than 281,000 women veterans in 2008, an increase of about 12 percent since 2006, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

Despite increased female enrollment and medical care, DOD and VA are still seeing alarming trends in military sexual trauma, divorce rates and mental illness among female service-members.

Approximately 20 percent of new recruits joining the military are now women; 1.85 million women are veterans -- a figure that is growing, according to federal government statistics.

At a recent VA forum on women, Dr. Natara Garovoy said 20 percent of female veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and 27 percent of Vietnam veterans have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. During screening, 21 percent of women in the VA health system in 2009 reported to their VA health care provider that they experienced military sexual trauma.

In 2005, the Department of Defense instituted a nationwide program called the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. At the Joint Base in Burlington County, the Army program coordinator is Capt. Amy Walder Glatz, an Iraqi veteran from Bordentown City and a National Guardsman still awaiting VA resolution of her own medical claim stemming from an explosion in Iraq.

Glatz said the program trains victim advocates to serve in battalions and also administers annual training to all soldiers -- male and female -- on sexual assault prevention and response.

Army Capt. Kathyrn Reynolds of Riverside -- a nine-year veteran -- said she believes a resource center like the one being proposed by Virtua Health is needed and that information and referral are key.

"A lot of women with any type of issue -- whether mental or physical -- would definitely take advantage of programs if they knew of them because it is a matter of not knowing what is available to them," said Reynolds, whose field has been computer network defense at Fort Belvior in Virginia.

Now 31, Reynolds said she has never been informed of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

"I was very fortunate never to have had PTSD or any issue with sexual harassment or assault, thank the Lord," said the captain, who received the Bronze Star for her work setting up Patriot missile communications in Iraq.

In 2008, Gov. Jon Corzine established a New Jersey Commission on Women Veterans that is due to issue a report by the end of this year. Army National Guard Lt. Col. Therese Acocella, a guardsman and commission chairwoman, said the group focuses on health care, housing and jobs. Its goal is to advocate for the rights and opportunities of women veteran and active duty military, identify their needs and inform them of benefit services and programs as well as job-reintegration training and applications for small business loans.

"I would say that the services available now are an improvement to those available after other conflicts, and there is greater outreach effort to help women recognize resources," Acocella said.