Veterans Affairs Scrambles To Serve Female Veterans The military and the veteran's system was originally built by and for men. As recently as three years ago, only about a third of Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics offered women's care. But the VA says soon all of them -- more than 1,000 facilities -- will provide gender-specific treatment.
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Veterans Affairs Scrambles To Serve Female Veterans

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Veterans Affairs Scrambles To Serve Female Veterans

Veterans Affairs Scrambles To Serve Female Veterans

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LYNN NEARY, Host:

Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports on the Veterans Administration's efforts to address them.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATIONS)

FRANK MORRIS, Host:

Connie Johnson-Cage, a lieutenant colonel with the Air National Guard, smiles at the sight of so many of them here.

CONNIE JOHNSON: Because what do we typically see on TV? We see men fighting in the war. We see men veterans. We never hear about the women who are in the back supporting the men. Now that we have women on the battlefield as well, we need to understand that we are all inclusive and we are all veterans.

MORRIS: And that legacy frustrates Kim Rushing, a 20-year veteran of the Navy. From her wheelchair, she scoffs at tables piled with olive, drab long johns.

KIM RUSHING: All this stuff is all men's stuff. I'm a woman and I served my country, and that's what I get is men's stuff.

MORRIS: The Veterans Administration lags behind the surge of women joining the military. Though Patricia Hayes, the VA's national director of Women's Health Services, says it's come a long ways in the past couple of decades.

PATRICIA HAYES: First of all, the woman might say that she walked in, and she felt like she was walking a gauntlet. There'd be a lot of men sitting in the waiting room. No images of women veterans. And maybe the clerk would have said: Gee, are you here for your husband?

MORRIS: As recently as three years ago, only about a third of VA Hospitals and clinics offered women's care. Hayes says that soon all of them, more than a thousand facilities, will provide gender specific treatment.

HAYES: So we're having this cultural change throughout the VA, which is also based on meeting their medical and health needs.

MORRIS: Unidentified Child: J-U-N-E.

MIESHA WOOTEN: Okay. March.

MORRIS: Unidentified Child: M-A-R-C-H.

MORRIS: ...Carr is going over spelling words with her lively six year old daughter. Although she served for a decade, it was only on her way home from Iraq last year when she learned that the VA provides comprehensive healthcare for women.

WOOTEN: Wow. Head to toe, really? As a woman, you're going to take everything in this one clinic? Yeah, I was so amazed. And so far, the services have been really good.

MORRIS: The VA is also addressing women's psychological trauma. According to the agency, more than one in five military women report being raped or severely harassed in the service.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHIMES)

MORRIS: Forty-nine year old Army vet Hannah Jones lives in a subsidized apartment in Kansas City. There, she recounts being raped by a superior officer as a young recruit.

HANNAH JONES: If I tell anyone, he said, he'll know and he will kill me. Every day I saw him, several times a day. I was so scared. I was 19.

MORRIS: Jones says she never reported the incident. She spiraled into drugs, alcoholism and prostitution. She was homeless for years before getting counseling, full medical benefits, and even housing through the VA.

JONES: I just love the VA Hospital. I do. I love the VA Hospital. All this help they've given me, I can't help but love them.

MORRIS: For NPR news, I'm Frank Morris, in Kansas City.

NEARY: You can hear more about the issues facing women veterans on MORNING EDITION and ALL THINGS CONSIDERED this Veterans Day, Thursday, November 11th.

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