October 30, 2017

Opinion: To Care for Her Who Have Borne the Battle

By Senator Maggie Hassan and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) Executive Director Allison Jaslow

This week, the voices of women veterans will be heard loud and clear at Southern New Hampshire University, where we will bring much-needed attention to the challenges women face in receiving quality treatment at veteran’s health care facilities across the country.

The original motto of the Department of Veterans Affairs reads, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle.” To care for “him.” With approximately two million women veterans in the United States, 700,000 of whom have served post-9/11, the VA’s motto should be modernized to better recognize the service and sacrifice of women.

On October 30, we will join a panel of women veterans for a discussion in Manchester about the struggles that many women veterans have in accessing quality health care, and the VA’s failure to care for her who shall have borne the battle.

Today, we’re fighting to ensure that women veterans receive the same recognition and access to quality care that their male counterparts have. In the name of Deborah Sampson, a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to serve in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, we are pushing Congress to pass the Deborah Sampson Act, bipartisan legislation that would address gender disparities at the VA to ensure that women veterans are getting equitable care.

The bipartisan bill, which we announced together outside of the U.S. Capitol building, eliminates barriers to care that many women veterans face by authorizing new funding to retrofit VA medical centers to enhance privacy and improve the environment of care for women veterans being treated.

It also requires every VA facility to have at least one full or part-time women’s health primary care provider on staff, and expands the Women Veteran Program Manager system to ensure that VA medical centers are quipped to properly coordinate and deliver care and benefits to women veterans.

At a time when countless veterans struggle with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues, the Deborah Sampson Act expands peer-to-peer counseling, group counseling, and call centers for women veterans.

And with more than one quarter of all women veterans under the age of 65 caring of children, this legislation takes critical steps to improve the quality of care that the VA can provide to infant children born at VA hospitals.

These reforms are critically important for women veterans across America, but particularly here in New Hampshire, where a catastrophic flood at the Manchester VA Medical Center (VAMC) caused serious damage to the Women’s Health Clinic, exacerbating long-standing inadequacies in women’s access to quality care at the Manchester VAMC.

Officials at the Manchester VAMC have taken initial steps to address these flaws, but we still need to see additional improvements for women at the facility.

While there is much more that needs to be done to improve care for veterans at the Manchester VAMC and other veteran’s health care facilities across the country, the Deborah Sampson Act has the potential to spark reforms for women veterans that could save lives, and we will continue to fight for her who shall have borne the battle.