The fastest growing population group in the military today is women who currently comprise 14.5 percent of active duty personnel and 18 percent of National Guard and Reserves.
The face of VA healthcare is changing. Younger female Veterans are using VA services more frequently, including for maternity care, and having service connected disabilities, while older Veterans are using VA services for menopausal needs, geriatric care, and extended inpatient stays.
From 2000 to 2013, women Veterans using VA services have more than doubled, from 159,000 to 390,000.
The Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain and its seven Community Based Outpatient Clinics throughout the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin served and cared for over 1,100 women Veterans in 2016. The VA provides a full continuum of care for women Veterans, including comprehensive gender-specific primary and specialty care, mental health services, disease prevention and screening, maternity care coordination, and urgent care services.
Enhanced maternity care is typically provided through arrangements made by the VA with local non-VA health providers. VA also provides maternity education and tools, childbirth preparation, breastfeeding support and lactation classes, breast pumps and other supplies, and care to the newborn for the first seven days after birth.
“We can offer our women Veterans comprehensive care in a single visit.”
The medical center and each field community clinic have designated health providers and nurses who are trained in women’s health.
“By having trained, gender-specific providers at the medical center and each of our community clinics we can offer our women Veterans comprehensive care in a single visit,” said Barbara Robinson, RN, Women Veterans Program Manager.
Air Force Veteran Ann Kaya talks with Carrie Champion, LPN, during a recent appointment in the Women’s Wellness Clinic at the Iron Mountain VA Medical Center.
Women’s health services provided by the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center have continued to excel in clinical practices and care for women Veterans. This is evidenced by the independent External Peer Review Program’s clinic measures, which shows the Iron Mountain-based VA medical center consistently screened 85 percent or more of its age appropriate women Veterans for breast and cervical cancers and osteoporosis exceeding regional and national averages.
“As the population of women Veterans grows, the number being treated for breast cancer continues to increase, so it is very important to us that our women Veterans get screened because when breast cancer is detected in its very early stage chances of a successful treatment are much higher,” said Robinson.
To provide more timely and comprehensive health care services to women Veterans, the medical center opened a separate Women’s Wellness Clinic in 2012, which also offers a private waiting area for women and their children while waiting for appointments.
Another enhancement to women Veterans healthcare is the establishment of the VA Women Veteran Call Center, which provides a one-stop contact for getting information on benefits, eligibility, services, and resources specifically for women Veterans. It also offers an online, one-to-one anonymous chat function via real-time text messaging accessible by going to www.womenshealth.va.gov and clicking on the icon labeled “Chat with the Women Veterans Call Center.”
The call center is available Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET.
Community based VA clinics are located in Sault Saint Marie, Manistique, Marquette, Hancock, Ironwood and Menominee, Michigan, and in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
About the author: Brad Nelson, is a public affairs officer at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center Iron Mountain, Michigan.