Our expert is Patricia M. Hayes, PhD, Chief Consultant for Women’s Health Services in the Office of Patient Care Services for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In this role, she oversees the delivery of VA health care services for over 500,000 women Veterans Affairs health care users.

If there is a medical topic you would like to see explored here, please let me know!

Very best,

Mitzi Perdue

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ASK IF YOUR PATIENT IS A VETERAN

In the USA, knowing your patient’s status as a veteran is important for diagnosis, treatment, and benefits.  However, roughly 30% of female veterans won’t self-identify as veterans unless you ask.  In addition, they may not realize that their service qualifies them as a veteran.  They may feel that being a veteran means that they must have seen combat or been deployed overseas. In fact, your patient also may qualify as a veteran if she has served in the Reserves, the National Guard, or if she was deployed in the United States.  To ask in a way that is broad enough to include everyone, ask your patient, “Have you ever served in the armed forces?”  

SHE MAY HAVE CHRONIC MUSCULOSKELATAL ISSUES

Chronic musculoskeletal problems are the number one issue affecting female veterans. Your patient may have had to wear 100 pounds of equipment including her rifle and her 20-pound helmet. Her job may have included jumping off vehicles. All of these experiences and many others as well can lead to back pain, neck pain, knee pain, or joint pain.   While she would have been treated for these while in the military, too often, a woman in the military will go back to work before she has fully recovered. She may have felt a cultural influence that she needed to measure up to or she may have wanted to get back to work early so as not to let her comrades down.

SEXUAL TRAUMA MAY BE DIFFERENT FOR A VETERAN

As healthcare providers, it’s important to understand that a patient’s military sexual trauma may be experienced differently from non-military sexual trauma.  The sense of betrayal, including its emotional effects, in some ways resembles the betrayal of incest. She may have been serving side by side with people she trusted, people who were her comrades, people she was counting on, as part of a team, to protect each other. The effects of this betrayal can be hidden and long lasting.

SHE IS ELIGIBLE FOR A VARIETY OF BENEFITS EVEN WHILE KEEPING YOU AS HER PROVIDER

She qualifies for dual health care through Dual Care.  This means she can keep you as her health care provider even while accessing many of the health care resources available through Veterans Affairs. As an example, the VA provides infertility treatment, including in vitro fertilization, if she is experiencing a service-connected fertility problem. The VA can help with mental health issues. The VA can also be a source of health care for her if she becomes uninsured. This could happen if, for example, she has become unemployed, divorced, or widowed.  Currently only 17% of female veterans access the Veterans Affairs medical facilities. Many more would benefit from VA medical services, if only they knew about them.

SHE IS ELIGIBLE FOR A VARIETY OF NON-MEDICAL BENEFITS

Beyond health care, the VA provides resources that are not medical, but very much affect her well-being.

The VA offers:
•    Employment assistance, including employment counseling and career counseling
•    Educational benefits, including many that your patients may not be aware of. For example, we can help her go through college and even get a PhD, depending on her career goals.
•    Home loans, including loan guarantees and down payments on their houses
•    Pensions
•    Help for someone at risk of homelessness
•    Burial benefits, including burial in non-military cemeteries
•    Headstones

For more information, direct your patient to https://www.va.gov/womenvet/ on the web, or have her call the Women Veteran Call Center Hot Line at 1-855-VA-WOMEN (1-855-829-6636). Your patient deserves this help. After all, she has earned it through her service to our country.