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As Impending Wave of Returning Female Troops Nears, Schumer Cites Syracuse VA Medical Center as a Model Clinic And Pushes For Its Expansion Across The Country

Nation's VA System Will Need to Evolve to Meet the Needs of this New Growing Population of Patients; Female Servicemembers Now Make Up an Estimated 15% of the Nation's Active Soldiers and Increasingly Serve on the Front Line

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With a record number of women troops serving our country and set to return home from serving abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed that specialized services for women veterans have not been uniformly prioritized by the Department of Veterans Affairs to handle the influx. Standing at the Syracuse VA Medical Center, Schumer announced his new Women Veterans Health Agenda to improve the nation's VA system and increase medical services, counseling and health care for returning women veterans. Schumer highlighted the Syracuse VA Medical Center and its Women's Health Center as an example of the specialized setting and provider of medical services that our nation's women veterans deserve, and recommended that it be the model that VAs follow to improve their women's health care.


Right now there are 5,000 female veterans in Central New York, which make up approximately 6 percent of the CNY veterans population.  This number is set to rise dramatically with estimates putting the women population as making up almost 15 percent of the U.S. military on active duty. Schumer, joined by female veterans from across Central New York, today unveiled a Women Veterans Health Agenda to boost VA health care services offered to the increasing wave of female soldiers set to return to the region.  


"The important role of women in our nation's defense and as part of the veteran population cannot be overlooked," said Schumer.  It is our job to ensure that these brave soldiers have access to the care that they need and deserve.  The Syracuse VA's Women's Health Center is representative of the type of specialized services that we must offer returning female troops and it should serve as a model for other VAs who are working diligently to serve our veterans. This new agenda will ensure that female soldiers who served our country are not left behind and that they have access to services that are specifically catered to their needs."


Women have served valiantly in America's wars and conflicts throughout our history. And although women were not formally under military command until the early part of the 20th century, they have served in various capacities, beginning with America's War of Independence.


With the nation at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan, women have increasingly played a greater role in U.S. military operations. Today, women are regularly on the front lines, involved in intense combat operations and deployed for extended periods of time. The percentage of women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan represents approximately 9.8 percent of all military deployed. It is expected that the nation's female veteran's population will exponentially increase in the coming decade. According to Department of Veterans Affairs, the population of women veterans rose, and is projected to continue to rise, steadily from 1.1 million in 1980 to 1.2 million in 1990 to 1.6 million in 2000 to 1.8 million in 2010 and 1.9 million in 2020


In Central New York, there are already an estimated 5,000 female veterans and this number will rise as female soldiers from the area return from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other foreign deployments.  


With the number of women veterans expected to rise across Central New York and the nation, Schumer today warned that the local VA health care system may be unable to accommodate and service the growing number of female patients unless specific programs are implemented. There are an estimated 1.8 million women veterans nationwide - approximately 7 percent of the U.S. veteran population.  Nationwide, the system already feels a burden with a growing female population seeking medical attention; assuming current enrollment rates stay the same, the number of female veterans who use the VA system will double in the next five years.


Women are the fastest growing group within the veteran population and as they get older they will increasingly depend on the VA system for services. These factors, coupled with the special needs of women veterans, particularly with respect to health care, drive the need for a better equipped VA system.


Schumer today noted that according to a 2008 VA study, women veterans get lower quality care than men and are not consistently receiving the recommended healthcare services in about onethird of the VA's 139 facilities that offer it. The review found a need for more physicians trained to address the health care needs of women, as well as more equipment for women's health.


Schumer contrasted this lack of comprehensive care for women vets with the Syracuse VA Medical Center, which has been at the forefront of delivering health care services to local female veterans since its establishment in 1953. The Center serves over 40,000 men and women throughout 13 counties in and around the Central New York area. In 1995, the Syracuse VA Medical Center opened a Women's Health Center which provides services solely for women including, comprehensive gynecological services, mammography/breast care services, a full range of cancer treatment (radiation therapy, chemotherapy), sexual trauma counseling, primary care, domestic violence programs and more. The Women's Health Center provides female veterans with access to the service they need in a safe, private atmosphere.


However, Schumer today noted that the women's services offered at the Syracuse VA medical center are not uniformly offered at VA facilities and that unless the VA system as a whole increases its services and steers its focus towards women's health, the returning female troops to Central New York and the nation will overload the system. According to the Syracuse VA Medical Center, the Women's Health Clinic currently treats 1,153 patients and that is expected to rise dramatically in the coming years.


As more female soldiers return home and deal with either medical or mental health care problems, the number of veterans seeking health care, particularly behavioral health services will rise.  Recent studies estimate that among the issues women disproportionally face upon retuning home are the effects of military sexual trauma, the difficulties of being thrust into a caregiving role, child birth, and the difficulties of being less likely to have military service recognized or appreciated.


To ensure that returning female service members across Central New York are not devoid of specialized medical treatment when they return home, Schumer today announced his new Women Veterans Health Agenda to improve the nation's VA system and increase medical services for returning women veterans.


The agenda includes:

  • Increasing the number of specialized women's VA health centers or clinics throughout the nation
  • Reviewing the services and coordination of health care provided to women veterans
  • Requiring at least one fulltime expert in women's health at every VA medical center
  • Instituting a pilot program for child care services for women veterans during medical appointments
  • Developing a pilot program for women veterans newly separated from service for counseling in a retreat setting
  • Enhanced training programs for women health providers


Schumer will recommend that the Syracuse VA Medical Center be the model by which VAs follow to improve their women's health care.