Support Grows to Widen VA Health Care for Women

Lawmakers agree on the key details, including:

• More access to mental health counseling.

• A three-region pilot program in which women who are primary caregivers could use VA employee child care centers while receiving outpatient treatment.

• Internal and external reviews of VA programs to determine whether women face any barriers to care.

The Senate committee included women’s initiatives in a larger veterans health bill, S 252, while the House is working on a free-standing women’s health bill.

The original House bill, HR 1211, included the promise of up to 14 days of neonatal health care from VA, either directly or by contract, for female veterans receiving VA maternity care.

The number of days was scaled back to seven under an amendment sponsored by Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana, ranking Republican on the full House Veterans Committee, based on input from VA showing that 95 percent of women are released from the hospital within seven days after birth and that most private health insurance plans cover only 48 hours of post-maternity hospitalization.

The Senate bill also provides seven days of care.

Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, chairman of the House health panel, said he believes studies of health care for female veterans called for in the legislation are among the most important provisions because they will look at whether the stigma of seeking mental health services, clinic operating hours, the distance of care and low gender sensitivity are factors discouraging women from getting the treatment they have earned.

Michaud said their needs should not “fall by the wayside as we explore ways to improve health care for our veterans.”

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