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Witness Testimony of Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a Representative in Congress from the State of South Dakota

Good morning Chairman Michaud and Ranking Member Miller.  Thank you for holding today’s hearing.  I appreciate having the opportunity to be here to discuss the Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act.

The Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act (H.R. 4107), which I introduced on November 7, 2007, along with Rep. Brown-Waite, will expand and improve Department of Veterans Affairs health care services for women veterans, particularly those who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF). 

I would like to thank the DAV for their support in helping craft this important legislation.  I would also like to thank the VFW for their endorsement of the bill.

As you know, more women are answering the call to serve, and more women veterans need access to services that they are entitled to when they return.  With increasing numbers of women now serving in uniform, the challenge of providing adequate health care services for women veterans is overwhelming.  In the future, these needs will likely be significantly greater with more women seeking access to care and a more diverse range of medical conditions. 

In fact, more than 1.7 million women nationally are military veterans.  More than 177,000 brave women have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 2001 and nearly 27,000 are currently deployed in these wars.  

By August of 2005, 32.9% of women veterans who had served in OEF/OIF had received VA health care.  By the end of the following year (2006) that number had increased to 37%.  As the VA compiles the final data for 2007 – the percent is expected to have increased again. 

And according to the VA, the prevalence of potential PTSD among new OEF/OIF women veterans treated at VA from fiscal year 2002-2006 has grown dramatically from approximately one percent in 2002 to nearly 19 percent in 2006.

So the trend is clear, but not surprising:  More women are answering the call to serve…and more women veterans need access to services that they are entitled to.  Clearly, we must do everything we can from a public policy standpoint to meet this new challenge of women veterans. 

The Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act calls for a study of health care for women veterans who served in OIF and OEF, a study of barriers to women veterans seeking health care, enhancement of VA sexual trauma programs, enhancement of PTSD treatment for women, expansion of family counseling programs, establishment of a pilot program for child care services, establishment of a pilot program for counseling services in a retreat setting for women veterans, and the addition of recently separated women veterans to serve on advisory committees.

The VA must ensure adequate attention is given to women veterans’ programs so quality health care and specialized services are available equally for both women and men.  I believe my bill will help the VA better meet the specialized needs and develop new systems to better provide for the health care of women veterans – especially those who return from combat, who were sexually assaulted, or who need child care services.  

Chairman Michaud and Ranking Member Miller, thank you again for inviting me to testify.  I look forward to answering any questions you may have.