There’s endless talk about what VA gets wrong, but I’d like to call attention to something very critical they’re getting very right.

Nine months ago, I had my first child. As a disabled Marine Corps Veteran enrolled in VA healthcare, I was eligible to receive my maternity care through the department. While I had gone through the initial steps to do so, I opted to stay with my private OB-GYN because I already had an established relationship with that physician.

But that choice did not end my maternity journey with the VA. On the contrary, it sparked a months-long exercise in establishing trust and satisfaction with the lengths VA has gone to ensuring both my physical and mental well-being as I started my family.image of Ashleigh Byrnesin Afghanistan

To begin, the process was very clearly outlined for me had I chosen to stick with VA for my prenatal care and delivery. VA provided my breast pump quickly and easily, without hassle. And representatives from the women’s clinic at my VA hospital have called at regular intervals both pre- and postnatal to check in on me and update my records. They asked how I am feeling, if I am still nursing and taking my vitamins and if there is anything they can do or appointments that they can arrange.

As much as I love my private OB-GYN practice, the truth is once I had my baby they all but fell off the map. Nine months after my son was born, I’m still receiving check-up calls from VA. It makes me feel valued and cared for, as a veteran and as a mother.

I recently received a call from my local VA informing me of a telehealth option specifically for new mothers. The University of Iowa recently partnered with VA to offer a toll-free counseling line and complimentary online treatment program for moms who may be experiencing postpartum depression or its associated symptoms.

The program—called MomMoodBooster—has real potential to help the 1 in 8 mothers who suffer from postpartum depression. This is the kind of truly innovative, on-demand and convenient option VA—and new mothers—need. Programs like these, along with other prenatal mental health treatment options, are especially important as an estimated 20 percent of female Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD can not only worsen during pregnancy, but can predispose mothers to post-birth mental health illness and elevate the risk of preterm birth.

My own experience with VA maternity care has changed the way I look at the system and its commitment to getting things right for Veterans. It’s clear to me that a cultural shift is taking place within VA, and this is an excellent example of the standard of care that many Veterans are now receiving and that others should be receiving.

I now know one thing for sure. Should I look to expand my family in the future, I won’t hesitate to use VA for my maternity care.

Editor’s note: For more information about the VA Office of Rural Health online PPD treatment program, please contact the MomMoodBooster program by phone, toll free, at 1-866-849-6636.

image of Ashleigh ByrnesAshleigh Byrnes, a combat veteran of the Afghanistan War, is the deputy national communications director of the 1.3 million-member DAV and manages and produces a wide variety of written, photographic and multi-media projects for DAV’s internal and external communications programs. A life member of DAV Chapter 10 in Fairfax, Virginia, Byrnes enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in January 2004. Following duty as a broadcast journalist with American Forces Network Tokyo in 2009, Byrnes deployed to Afghanistan where she established and led the American Forces Network Kandahar news bureau to expand military broadcast coverage of combat operations.

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Published on Feb. 28, 2017

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  1. JAMES MARHEVKA March 2, 2017 at 9:40 am

    I live in Vero Beach, they have a CBOC that doesnt allow me the choice when they dont provide the service and I live 91 miles 1 way to the closest VA. I have begged, screamed, politely talked and have been told too bad, I am furious because I am disabled and on a fixed income. They tell me to take the 3:45 or 4:45 am shuttle to WPB VA for a 20 minute appt and tell me that I have to wait aroumd until 12:30 to take it back. They told me in essence that my time and my life and the absurd wait times mean nothing to them, I should do it and like it, I waited 71 days for an ear nose and throat specialist appt and they still wouldnt refer me to choice… The Florida CBOC’s that arw hired by the VA DO NOT CARE and have broken all the rules and have ignored all requests, even the Patient Advocate could care less, HealthNet has tried as I am a client but the lady Carolyn has also become frustrated because no one listens to her. Also dont get me started on Mental Health help, theyve just totally ignored me for almost a year and a half, when I moved to Florida from Connecticut where I waa being seen 1 time a week for at least 5 years, I am literally goimg crazy and they just DONT CARE ,, I CANT SEEM TO GET ANYONE TO LISTEN AND HELP,,, some days like today it isnt worth me trying they just are rude and uncaring, they could all careless if I died… Sad and rude and blatantly breaking all the rules with an hah hah I told you so attitude, discouraging

  2. Jo Sissel March 1, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    Excellent expansion of our current telehealth options! Great job VA and UIHC!!!

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