This Women’s History Month, let’s fix the VA for our female veterans

Throughout the month of March, Americans around the country honor courageous women who have made significant contributions to history. In honor of this year’s Women’s History Month, I’d like to reflect on our nation’s female military members as they make the transition to becoming veterans.

As a former Army helicopter pilot, I served with female heroes who fought every day to keep America strong and safe. Unfortunately, these same battle-tested women have come home to face a Department of Veterans Affairs that puts its own needs above the veterans it serves.

Last week 11 members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee submitted a bipartisan letter to the VA’s deputy inspector general calling for an investigation into the VA’s ability to handle the specific needs of the rising number of female veterans. I commend the HVAC for shedding light on this rapidly growing demographic in the veteran community and demanding the need to better identify their needs.

With the VA’s track record over the past year including scandals, secret wait lists, and systemic unethical behavior, it has proven that the department cannot properly adjust to the influx of female veterans.  While the VA boasts it can accommodate the increase of female vets, recent studies evaluating current care practices shed light on the already disturbing lack of care towards female patients. Huff Post Politics reported:
“…one of every two women veterans has received medication from a VA pharmacy that could cause birth defects, compared to one in every six women who received drugs care through a private health care system, said the study’s author, Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, a senior medical expert on reproductive health with VA.”

That is unacceptable treatment of women who took an oath to defend our rights on foreign lands far from their family and loved ones. But under the current VA system, there are no choices, and a broken VA is what America’s veterans are stuck with.

This leaves us with two options:

First, we could accept the status quo. This would require trusting the VA to build up its internal infrastructure to support the specialized needs of our female veterans while promoting inclusiveness in a primarily male-dominated system. Inevitably it would mean throwing additional funding into the loaded coffers at the VA, which already touts the second largest budget in the United States government. Ultimately veterans will continue to be helplessly lost in a bureaucratic maze of red tape.

Or…

We could put the needs of the female veterans first by providing them with choice over their healthcare options. Why not simply let today’s brave women choose the doctor they want to see? They chose to put their lives on the line – they should be able to choose their doctor. It’s simple. It’s common sense.

Sadly, this seemingly simple option has one thing standing in its way – the VA bureaucracy that is so reluctant to give veterans private sector options out of fear it will have to give up its monopoly on veterans’ health care. Luckily, my organization Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), commissioned a bipartisan Fixing Veterans Health Care Taskforce to devise solutions to fix this problem. Its work came to fruition in the form of the Veterans Independence Act, which will bring meaningful and practical reform to the Department of Veterans Affairs in an attempt to strengthen it and give veterans the quality care they earned and deserve.

Women’s History Month is a great way to reflect on the incredible women who have changed the world around us. But let us not merely reminisce on how far we’ve come; let us continue to build upon that foundation by committing ourselves to proactive and meaningful efforts to produce positive change. So I call on you to help fight for our female veterans who have fought for you when it mattered most. Make a difference in the lives of over 2 million of America’s strongest women all around us, and help fix the VA.
Our nation’s warriors deserve the best the VA has to offer and with the Veterans Independence Act this can be accomplished.

Originally published in The Hill

Follow Amber on Twitter: @AmberSmithUSA

Fox & Friends: Obama’s Trip to the Phoenix VA