(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, spoke at a committee hearing to support the Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2009. Senator Murray questioned Dr. Gerald Cross, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Health, about the VA’s position on expanding medical services for the growing number of women veterans.
Senator Murray reintroduced the bipartisan Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act last month with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin introduced similar bi-partisan legislation in the House of Representatives.
“Women now make up fifteen percent of current active duty Guard and Reserve forces, and the number of women veterans enrolled in the VA system is expected to double in the next five years,” said Senator Patty Murray. “Because the conflicts of today do not have the clear front lines of past wars, women, like all of our servicemembers, are always on the front lines - riding on dangerous routes, guarding key checkpoints, and seeing the horrors of war first-hand. We simply cannot overlook the growing number of women veterans, or their unique needs, any longer. Instead, we need to make sure that the VA is prepared to care for the needs of these honorable veterans today.”
The Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2009 would assess, expand, and improve health care services to women veterans, particularly those brave women who have served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. This bill aims to equip the VA for the long?term needs that will be associated with a larger women veteran population. - Bill Summary
At today’s hearing, representatives from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), The Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the National Rural Health Association, and the Paralyzed Veterans of America expressed their organizations’ support for Senator Murray’s Women Veterans legislation.
Senator Murray questioned Dr. Cross about the VA’s position on expanding medical services to women veterans.
Senator Murray’s question:
“Dr. Cross, I recently held a press conference on women veterans’ issues with several female veterans who were part of a group known as Team Lioness. While the Army sent these female soldiers to serve in a support role for Marine ground combat teams in Iraq, the members of Team Lioness were exposed to some of the bloodiest counterinsurgency battles during their service. And all of this was done despite the current prohibition on women serving in combat.
“I am told that many members of Team Lioness have not had their combat service recorded in their DD 214, which obviously impacts their ability to get compensation and other ancillary benefits they have earned at the VA. In fact, a female veteran who served as a mechanic in Team Lioness told me the VA claims adjudicator she went to see about her PTSD claim didn’t believe she could have psychological health issues because her military records didn’t show any record of combat service.
“Dr. Cross, I recognize that this is a Department of Defense problem, but I was hoping you could tell me if the VA is exploring options to ensure that its compensation and pension staff and its medical staff are aware of the combat roles many women veterans have played in Iraq?”
Dr. Cross responded by saying that Vet Centers could play a role in this and that he would work to address this issue systematically with the Department of Defense and the Veterans’ Benefits Administration.