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Listen to Murray discuss her bill at today's hearing.

(Washington D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray's (D-WA) legislation to improve care for women veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) passed the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. The legislation, the Women Veterans Health Improvement Act of 2008, seeks to prepare the VA for the unprecedented influx of female veterans who will access care there in the coming years. The legislation addresses many of the unique needs of female veterans by authorizing programs to improve care for Military Sexual Trauma (MST), increase research on the current barriers to care, and expand women veterans staff positions at the VA.

"While women are playing an increasing role in our military and sacrificing on the front lines, they make up a small fraction of those receiving care at the VA," Senator Murray said at today's hearing. "We need to ensure that women have equal access to VA health care benefits and services, and that the VA health care system is tailored to meet the unique needs of women veterans.  Planning for the wave of new women veterans is going to be a difficult and complex task, but this bill gets us on the right track."

Senator Murray's bill was passed as part of S. 2969 – The Veterans' Health Care Authorization Act of 2008 -- a larger "omnibus" bill that incorporated a number of different veterans' health care measures

A summary of Senator Murray's bill as passed today follows:

- The Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2008 -

A bill to 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 greater women veteran population. 

A Fast Growing Population with Unique Needs

Women veterans have unique mental and physical health care needs that the VA is currently underprepared to handle.

  • Women make up 14 percent of our current active duty, guard and reserves.
  • Today, there are approximately 1.7 million total women veterans, or 7 percent of the nearly 25 million total veteran population.  
  • It is projected that the number of female veterans who use the VA system will double in the next five years, assuming current enrollment rates stay the same, making female veterans one of the fastest growing subgroups of veterans. 
  • Among the issues women disproportionally face upon returning home are the effects of Military Sexual Trauma, the difficulties of being thrust into a care-giving role, child birth, and the difficulties of being less likely to have military service recognized or appreciated.

A Look at What the VA is Doing and What More Needs to be Done

This bill authorizes new assessments of the care we are and should be providing to women veterans.

  • Requires VA to report to Congress on its comprehensive assessment of VA services and programs for women veterans, and submit a plan on how it will address the health care needs of women. 
  • Requires VA to work with the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study on the health consequences for women veterans who served in OIF/OEF. 

New Programs that Will Prepare the VA for Today and Tomorrow

This bill authorizes new programs aimed at improving the VA’s capacity to care for women veterans’ mental and physical health care needs.
The bill will require the VA to:

  • Provide neonatal care to the newborns of eligible women veterans;
  • Implement a program to educate, train and certify mental health professionals to specialize in the provision of mental health services regarding military sexual trauma;
  • Create a pilot program – using the Department’s existing child care program for its employees – on the provision of child care to women veterans who require intensive outpatient care; 
  • Implement a pilot program to provide reintegration and readjustment services to women veterans in retreat settings;
  • Report to Congress on the staffing for at least one full-time employee at each VA medical center who is a women veterans’ program manager, and
  • Ensure that there are OIF/OEF veterans on the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans.