March 17, 2009 – Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced major bi-partisan legislation to prepare the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the influx of women veterans who will access care there in the coming years. Senator Murray’s bill, the Women Veterans Health Improvement Act of 2009, will address many of the unique needs of female veterans, particularly those women who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) is the lead co-sponsor of the legislation and has also played a vocal role in ensuring the VA meets the unique needs of female veterans.
“Women have stepped up to serve at unprecedented levels,” said Senator Murray. “Which means the VA is now faced with unprecedented challenges in caring for them as they return home. This bill addresses the unique challenges women face by providing specialized care for the visible and invisible wounds of war. As more women begin to transition home, and step back into lives as mothers, wives, and citizens, the VA must be there for them.”
“Women serving in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and performing dangerous missions throughout the world make up an important and growing segment of our veteran population. The number of women veterans receiving care through the VA is expected to double in less than five years,” said Senator Hutchison. “Our bill will help improve access to quality health care services for women who have bravely served in our armed forces.”
“Generations of women have served honorably in all of this country’s major conflicts. These women have earned the right to expect the same high quality health care services and benefits as their male counterparts,” said Dave Gorman, Executive Director of Disabled American Veterans (DAV). “While significant progress has been made in recent years to remove institutional barriers that often discourage women veterans from seeking assistance at VA facilities, more needs to be done. The Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act will help ensure these women have equal access to VA benefits and services. DAV is proud to have worked on this legislation with Senator Murray, who has proven herself time and again to be a steadfast and effective champion for all of America’s veterans.”
Senators Murray and Hutchison’s bill was co-sponsored by Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Susan Collins (R-ME), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Lisa Murkowski (D-AK), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
“The brave women of our military have been fighting side-by-side in Iraq and Afghanistan with our men in uniform so that we may live in freedom – they deserve the same support from the government when they return home,” Senator Mikulski said. “There is currently an unprecedented number of women defending their country at war. We owe them a debt of gratitude, and that means making sure they have a VA health care system that meets their needs.”
“More women are serving in the military today than at any time and this number is only growing. They face unique challenges and the VA must be prepared to meet their needs,” said Senator Boxer.
“With over 10,000 women veterans in Maine, and almost two million across the nation, each are patriots that have answered their nation’s call, and it is essential the nation be there for them when they return to the homefront and their families,” Senator Snowe said. “I am honored to join with my colleagues to introduce this bill today that rightfully recognizes and addresses issues with which many of these veterans and their families are managing today.”
“Our women vets have served courageously and selflessly alongside their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. The time has come that we recognize the unique needs of these veterans by respecting their differences and addressing the inequities that may exist in the system,” said Senator Johnson, Chairman of the Senate Military Construction / VA Appropriations Subcommittee.
“This legislation will help ensure that our women in the military return home to a high quality health care system that they certainly deserve and have earned. I am proud to recognize the invaluable service that our service members have made, and I will continue to assist those who do so much to protect our nation,” said Senator Lincoln.
“For far too long, the VA has operated with a “one size – fits all” culture,” said Senator Murkowski. “Those days are gone. The physical, mental and reproductive health challenges that face women veterans may require a different menu of services, delivered in a different way than the VA has grown accustomed. This legislation sends a powerful wake-up call that America’s 1.7 million women veterans earned their benefits too and it is time for the VA to step up and meet its needs.”
“American service women need to know that their commitment to this country is both recognized and honored,” said Senator Brown. “We must meet the obligations of every veteran in a way that reflects their bravery and sacrifice. This bill would expand the VA’s resources to address gaps in services and provide women with access to benefits they have earned.”
Among other things, the legislation introduced today will:
– Require the VA to implement a program to train, educate, and certify VA mental health professionals to care for women with sexual trauma
– Require the VA Secretary to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the barriers women are facing in accessing care at the VA.
– Authorize a report to Congress on the effects the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the physical, mental, and reproductive health of women who have served there.
– Require the VA to begin a pilot program that provides child care to women veterans that seek mental health care services at the VA.
– Require the VA to begin a pilot program that provides readjustment counseling to women veterans in group retreat settings.
Senators Murray and Hutchison introduced similar legislation last year in the 110th Congress which passed the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee http://murray.senate.gov/news.cfm?id=299802 before the Senate session ended.
For Detailed Information on the Women Veterans Health Improvement Act of 2009 visit: http://murray.senate.gov/veterans/women-vets-2009.pdf