The number of female veterans receiving care at VA facilities has doubled in the past decade.
That figure is expected to grow, with close to 200,000 women having served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That growth means the need to offer specialized care for female veterans is more pressing than ever.
Carey Russ was recently named manager of the Women Veterans Program at the White River Junction VA Medical Center.
She joined Morning Edition to talk about her new role.
You’ve been in this new role since February, but you’ve actually been at the White River Junction VA for seven years. What type of growth have you seen in terms of female veterans?
We know that about 14 percent of all active duty military personnel are women, so we’re seeing more and more of them seeking out health care at the VA. Since 2000, the numbers have more than doubled. They are the fastest growing group of veterans receiving health care within the VA right now.
What are some of the issues female veterans face when coming home that men may not?
The veterans we’re seeing now are younger, so many of them are of child-bearing age, with different health needs from men, certainly. Socially, we know that women are struggling to find employment. Child care is an issue, as well. Something that a lot of people don’t know is that the VA does provide maternity care for women veterans. Women can seek care out at the medical center or a provider of their choice, and then the VA covers the cost of care. VAs now have maternity care coordinators in place so that all of the care can be coordinated as best we can.
You had an entire VA system that only a few decades ago was almost entirely male dominated transitioning into offering services and creating an environment for men and women.
How do you feel that transition is going, and is there still work to be done?
I think the transition has gone well and yes, I do think there is still work to be done. With regard to equipment, all the exam room at the VA at White River Junction have appropriate equipment and supplies to treat women veterans. For example, exam tables with foot rests, privacy curtains, lockable doors. All of our exam rooms at the Women’s Comprehensive Care Center have a private bathroom attached.
The Women’s Comprehensive Care Center at White River Junction is unique. It’s the way that we decided to treat women veterans. The beauty of it is that comprehensive primary care in one place that’s designed for women.
Has there been a perception among female veterans that the VA doesn’t offer the type of care they need?
I think that’s starting to change. I hope so, anyway. We really are wanting women veterans to know that the VA is a place for them to be seen for care, as well.
What kind of outreach are you doing to change that perception?
I’m just starting to do more and more outreach. I was a veterans summit event at Lyndon State College a couple weeks ago talking about service for women veterans. We also have seven community-based outpatient centers, five in Vermont and two in New Hampshire. We really encourage women veterans to utilize these clinics and services.
Before this job, you worked a lot with homeless veterans. How has that experience you had working with homeless veterans informed your job here?
The homeless team is embedded with mental health at this VA at White River Junction, so I have a pretty strong mental health background, which I think is hugely important knowing that women are coming back with increased mental health needs like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that women and men are struggling with MST, which is Military Sexual Trauma.