Mixed with the Vietnam and World War II-era patients waiting for a doctor are women in their 20s who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, reading Allure magazine and, in some cases, coming in for pregnancy tests.
The hospital sees almost twice as many women it did before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Administrators opened a women's clinic and are trying to take female veterans into consideration when deciding everything from the color of the walls to the size of the prosthetics offered. Waiting areas soon will have kid-friendly tables. On-site day care for veterans with medical appointments is under review.
"It's not the old guys group anymore," said Ann Brown, the medical center director, from her office inside the brown brick hospital not far from Harpers Ferry. "It's women and it's younger, and the younger folks, they need more than just medical care. They've got family issues. They need help reintegrating in how to get back into their jobs."
No one's quite ready for them, but female veterans have arrived in the VA's hundreds of hospitals and clinics. A system long geared toward treating an aging male population is scrambling to care for thousands of female veterans. They are younger, too. Most of the women who served in the recent wars are younger than 40.
In the past budget year, the VA saw 281,000 female veterans, a 12 percent increase from two years earlier. Women represent 1 in 16 veterans in the system, but in 15 years are projected to represent 1 in seven.
This increase has forced changes in the VA's culture, in addition to its medical system. Not only have VA facilities had to get equipment such as gynecological exam tables, they've had to create a place where women feel comfortable.
In Martinsburg, for example, the hospital recently got a bone density scan machine and had an interior decorator design a warm, neutral-colored room with beach-themed artwork to put it in. The door closes for privacy, and there's a hook for hanging up clothes - accommodations that once weren't much of an issue, said Terry Hopper, the nuclear medicine supervisor.
Still, change is not happening fast enough for some women in the VA's system.
The good news is that positive changes are in the works, said Joy Ilem, assistant national legislative director at Disabled American Veterans. But, Ilem said, "They are not at the point where if you go into every VA clinic that you know you're going to get good care if you're a woman veteran."
Beyond Martinsburg, some female veterans said the VA staff didn't believe them when they said they had been in combat. Other women described being mistaken for daughters or granddaughters of male patients.
"You do feel kind of out of place there just because VA hospitals are consumed by Vietnam vets, primarily," Staff Sgt. Meghan Meade, 26, of East Moriches, N.Y. A gunner in the Air National Guard, Meade broke her leg in 2006 while in Iraq and had two years' worth of procedures at the VA in Northport, N.Y.