Though women now account for almost 15 percent of active-duty troops in the U.S. military, the medical care they receive is often not on par with that of their male counterparts.
A 2007 Department of Defense report showed that "In half of focus groups, women expressed concerns about a lack of female-specific facilities and equipment, such as machinery to perform mammograms, in field hospitals," The Courier-Journal's Laura Ungar reports. Department of Veterans Affairs "hospitals don't provide obstetrics, for example, and most don't offer mammograms on-site."
Military officials acknowledge more needs to be done, but progress is being made. "Are we perfect? No. But we work our hardest to be," said Laura Boyd, public affairs officers for Fort Campbell's Blanchfield Hospital.
Efforts are being made to boost privacy for women and improve training. The VA has also hired managers to handle women's care and has launched an awareness program in which employers are reminded to assume that any woman who walks in is a veteran. Spending has also gone up, with the VA asking for $270 million in 2012, up $28 million from last year.
Still, the 2007 report found medical care was wanting in field centers. Women complained "about limits on access to gynecological exams, procedures and lab tests; and too few birth-control options in field pharmacies," Ungar reports. "In nearly half the focus groups, women said there was too little privacy in field facilities, and many felt they were seen as whiners for seeking care."
Officials at Blanchfield admit they can't provide all the care women need and do rely on outside providers, such as Vanderbilt University, for complicated cases and for routine wellness services. Most outside providers are within an hour's drive of a VA facility, which Patty Hayes, the VA's director of women's health, acknowledged is "not ideal." Still, there are no plans to provide obstetrics or other specialty care for women at VA hospitals. (Read more)