Memorial Day is our annual reminder that we in the U.S. owe a debt of gratitude to our armed forces veterans that we can never adequately repay. One of the ways we seek to show that gratitude to the millions of men and women who have served in our nation’s military branches is to provide veterans with the medical care they need, not just while they’re on active duty but for the rest of their lives. But according to a recent article, there is one group of vets that is conspicuously under-represented in VA Health facilities: women.
Women and the VA: Many Consider VA Health Care “A Last Resort”
In researching Memorial Day articles for the AgingOptions blog, we encountered this surprising article on a website called MedicalXpress.com. The title grabbed our attention: “Why do women military vets avoid using VA benefits?” Written by University of Massachusetts Professor Elizabeth Evans, the article suggests that women vets are ill-served by the way the Veterans Health Administration currently operates. “Many women military veterans turn to the Veterans Administration (VA) for health care and social services only as a ‘last resort,’ or ‘safety net,’” Evans writes, “typically for an emergency or catastrophic health event, or when private health insurance is unaffordable.” From the tone of the article, it would appear that a significant group of female vets, many of them probably retirees, are not being well cared for.
According to the VA website, the Veterans Health Administration is “the largest integrated health care system in the United States.” The agency operates nearly 1,250 health care facilities, ranging from 170 large, fully-equipped VA Medical Centers to more than 1,000 outpatient sites and clinics. The VA says it serves about 9 million enrolled Veterans each year. However, as Professor Evans reveals in her article, a relatively tiny percentage of those are female vets, and the Veterans Administration knows it has a problem attracting women patients. “While the VA in recent years has made efforts to address underuse of benefits by women,” Evans says, “a 2015 profile of women veterans by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that fewer than one in three women vets used VA health care.” This compares with about half of male vets.
Women and the VA: Women “Intentionally” Avoiding VA Care
Of course, men vastly outnumber women in the ranks of military vets, yet the number of female vets opting to avoid VA medical care still adds up to a significant number. We checked the federal stats and learned that there are almost 2 million female vets living today in the U.S. If only one third ever visit VA health facilities, that means, of the 9 million vets served by the VA each year, fewer than 700,00o – roughly 8 percent – are women. We wondered why.
“Health care is a great perk for veterans, but women vets are intentionally choosing not to use their VA benefits,” says Evans, who had previously spent time working for the VA in Los Angeles doing advanced postdoctoral research. Along with a team of researchers from the VA and also from UCLA, she interviewed a group of women veterans, publishing her findings in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology. Some of the impediments to wider use of VA health services seemed to center around simple misinformation – but others appeared to run deeper, bringing up painful associations with the women’s unique experiences while serving on active military duty. The biggest barriers:
- Poor Indoctrination: Women said they felt little or no connection to services offered by the VA, because benefits were never explained while serving or upon discharge.
- Bureaucracy: The perception is widespread that using the VA system is too complex.
- Misperception: Many women vets expressed inaccurate beliefs about what health care services they were eligible for.
- Unpleasant Association: In Evans’ words, “VA environments [triggered] women’s memories of combat experiences, military sexual assault and other negative military experiences.”
- Lack of Safety and Sensitivity: Again quoting Evans, many female vets harbor “perceptions of VA settings as unsafe…and insensitive to the needs and preferences of women, including too little capacity for preventive and holistic care.”
Women and the VA: a Culture Shift and a Better Plan
It does seem clear that, if female vets are going to be served properly, a culture shift at the VA is in order. “Some women vets described the VA health care settings as understaffed, male-dominated and inexperienced with treating women vets, especially those with combat-related trauma,” Evans writes. Others interviewed said they felt “uncomfortable returning to a military-like setting for health care,” and they disliked the environment of many VA facilities, labeling them “more like a military base than a health care setting.” In Professor Evans’ view, “There are small and big things that could be changed to make it a more welcoming environment for women veterans.”
Here at AgingOptions, we understand how frustrating it is to experience the wrong kind of health care, and that’s why we strongly suggest that it’s time for you to take charge of your medical needs. For seniors, the first step is to place yourself in the care of a geriatrician – someone with a thorough understanding of the physical and emotional needs of aging patients. (If you’re receiving care from the Veterans Administration, you’ll find a link here to the geriatric services offered through the VA system.) The right health care professional can get you on the proper course to better health and give you the best, most appropriate advice. Contact AgingOptions and let us provide you with a referral to a geriatrician near you.
Avoid “Retirement Emergencies” with Careful Planning
If you’re ready to take charge of your retirement preparation, the professional team at AgingOptions is ready to help. When you experience our unique and comprehensive approach to retirement planning, which we call LifePlanning, you’ll appreciate just how powerful it is, because with LifePlanning all the essential elements of retirement work together: your finances, your housing choices, your medical coverage, your legal protection, and your family communication. The absolute key to enjoying a secure and fruitful retirement is a good, solid plan, and that means an AgingOptions LifePlan.
We invite you to come join Rajiv Nagaich at a free LifePlanning Seminar where he can tell you more and answer your questions, without any obligation. Invest just a few hours and your eyes will be opened to a new way of thinking about your retirement. For dates, times and locations of upcoming seminars, visit our Live Events page and reserve your place online for the event of your choice. Don’t settle for an unhealthy, inadequate retirement plan! Take control of your future with an AgingOptions LifePlan. Age on!
(originally reported at www.medicalxpress.com)
(Photo Credit: Minnesota National Guard, Creative Commons, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode)