Women Vets Don't Always Get Privacy At VA Clinics

Veterans Affairs hospitals and outpatient clinics under review are not always complying fully with federal privacy requirements, often exposing women when they bathe or receive exams, according to government auditors, The Associated Press reports.

"GAO investigators found that many VA facilities had gynecological tables that faced the door — including one door that opened to a waiting room. It also found instances where women had to walk through a waiting area to use the restroom, instead of it being next to an exam room as required by VA policy. At four hospitals investigators visited, women were not guaranteed access to a private bathing facility. In two of those cases, there wasn't a lock on the door. Female veterans told the Senate Veterans' Affairs committee that VA workers need to be better educated about combat situations that women face in the two ongoing wars. Beyond privacy concerns, there are other issues as well, they said, such as a lack of child care at VA hospitals and difficulty in finding diaper-changing tables." Last year the VA provided care to more than 281,000 women veterans, a 12 percent increase from 2006 (Hefling, 7/14).

CNN: "But Veterans Affairs faces hurdles in its efforts to improve its services and facilities, the department's chief consultant for women's medical care testified before Congress on Tuesday. 'Moving to a more comprehensive primary care delivery model could challenge VA clinicians, who may have dealt predominantly with male veterans and sometimes have little or no exposure to female patients,' said Patricia Hayes of the department's Women's Veterans Health Strategic Healthcare Group. Only one-third of veterans' facilities offer a separate space for women to receive gynecological, mental health and social work services, according to Hayes. There is a goal to have a gynecologist available at every facility by 2012, she said" (Levine, 7/14).

Five female veterans testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Tuesday, McClatchy Newspapers/The Miami Herald reports: "The five veterans said women sometimes aren't properly informed upon discharge that health benefits are still available. They described how dealing with government is frustrating and confusing, and that often their unique needs, such as child care and sexual assault counseling, aren't understood by government officials. 'I looked to the VA for help when I most needed it, but never succeeded in completing my enrollment, let alone actually receiving the care I needed,' said Genevieve Chase, the founder and executive director of the American Women Veterans organization. … In May, the committee approved the Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, designed to address these problems. The full Senate has yet to take any action on the bill." The House of Representatives in June approved similar legislation.

"The Senate bill, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would require the department to study barriers to health care for female veterans, train more psychiatrists to treat PTSD sufferers and provide care for newborns" (Wells, 7/14).

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