BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Progress for Women Veterans

Posted by espressodog on June 16, 2010

Since 2005, BPW Foundation has been talking about the unique challenges facing women veterans and advocating for change. This year 2 sweeping veterans bills include a number of programs and services designed to address this overlooked cohort of soldiers and their families.

Women are currently the fastest-growing veteran population, representing 8% of the population and by 2020, 15 % of veterans using the VA for health care will be women. What this means is that veterans’ services, which are now primarily tailored to men, need to undergo significant changes and fast.

A ginormous bill for veterans and caregivers signed by President Obama on May 5th, includes an unprecedented number of dollars to support caregivers of veterans and woman veterans. Sponsored by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act (S. 1963) establishes a permanent program to support the caregivers of our wounded warriors, improve health care for veterans in rural areas, help the VA adapt to the needs of women veterans, and expand support services for homeless veterans.

Caregivers who live with a severely injured veteran from Afghanistan or Iraq will be eligible to receive a stipend, lodging when they travel for treatment, training to provide specialized services, counseling, health insurance and up to 30 days of respite care each year.

Unfortunately, the caregiver assistance is only available for those taking care of Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans. This was a compromise struck to pass the bill and we hope to see it expanded in the future. The caregiver-assistance provisions of the new law become effective in nine months.

The bill also allows the Veterans Adminstration to use hospitals outside the VA network to treat more returning soldiers suffering from brain injuries, eliminates co-payments for “catastrophically disabled” veterans, and increases housing and transportation assistance for veterans living far from hospitals in rural areas.

Women Veterans Health Care
This landmark legislation included important provisions from the Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act (HR 1211), a bill supported by BPW Foundation.  It requires the VA to:

  • Conduct a study of barriers to women veterans seeking health care,
  • Educate and train mental health professionals caring for veterans with sexual trauma;
  • Implement a reintegration and readjustment pilot program;
  • Establish a child care pilot program for women receiving regular and intensive mental health care and intensive health care services, or who are in need of such services but do not seek care due to the lack of child care services;
  • Provide up to seven days of post-delivery health care to a new born child of a women veteran.  (Because newborns are not veterans themselves, they have ineligble for health care up to now even if their mother is a veteran.)

This is not the only bill Congress is considering to address the needs of women veterans. On May 28, the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (HR 5136) which includes provisions to address military sexual trauma, health care, and career training for military spouses. The Defense Authorization Act includes:

  • a comprehensive legislative package to address sexual assault in the military;
  • a measure to ensure that the spouse, children, and parents of a deployed or deploying member of the armed forces, who are not covered under the FMLA, have the ability to take at least two weeks of unpaid leave from their job in order to address issues that arise over the course of a deployment cycle and
  • a measure to require a report on the number of minority-owned, women-owned, and disadvantaged-owned businesses over the past 10 years that have received Department of Defense contracts.

More than two million women have served in the U.S. Armed Forces and there are currently 1.8 million women veterans. As part of the ongoing commitment of BPW Foundation to support women veterans, BPW Foundation has conducted research, centralized resources and developed programs to help our ‘sheroes’ and their families as they transition back into civilian professional life. This fall, BPW Foundation, with support from McCormick Foundation, will host Joining Forces for Women Veterans, a national Summit to raise awareness, create an action plan and launch a fund to help support solutions for women veterans who are challenged in their transition to civilian career, family, and community lives.

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