VA pushing to recruit, train more healthcare providers to specialize in women’s needs

The number of women veterans getting health care through the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has tripled in the last two decades. More than half a million women receive care through the agency today.

This week, lawmakers on Capitol Hill heard from the VA about potential gaps in care for female patients.

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“We need to reach a point at which women’s health care is not an afterthought but an intrinsic well-planned part of the basic health care delivery system,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL), during a House hearing this week.

Among the biggest challenges is getting enough health care workers who specialize in women’s health care needs.

“Part of the thing we’ve had to overcome is the message that people have had for a long time of the idea that everyone who is in the VA as a patient is male,” said Dr. Patricia Hayes, chief officer for the Office of Women’s Health for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The VA said it is actively working to recruit new medical workers and increase training for current staff.

“We still have some gaps, and one of the ways that we continue to address the gaps is to train our primary care providers who are maybe not taking care of women. We give them intensive training to update their skills to care for women,” said Hayes.

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Retired U.S. Navy Captain Lory Manning, who serves as the director of Government Operations for the Service Women’s Action Network, said the VA has come a long way in improving its care for women.

“A lot of them chose, particularly some of the older veterans, not to use VA health care services because it was geared to men quite frankly,” said Manning. “Over the past 20 years at least, VA has become much, much better at providing women’s health care. But there’s still a long way to go.”

Manning pointed to the success of an online course offered to female service members, informing them of health care services available after leaving the military.

“They’re trying hard, but it’s a hard problem,” said Manning. “It’s the biggest health care system in the country.”

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