MAY 6, 2020 – Women are the fastest growing demographic among veterans, with nearly two million representing about 9.4 percent of the total veteran population. Female veterans are also increasingly using the Department of Veterans Affairs services for their health care, but some would say not soon enough.
The VA offers a live online training course for transitioning servicewomen to become informed about their health care options through the Women’s Health Transition Training (WHTT), with the next class available 8:30 to 11 a.m. May 8 for Fort Drum Soldiers.
The WHTT course covers the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), woman-focused health care services offered by VA health care and the VHA enrollment process. Each training session is led by a female veteran who actively uses VA health care services, and an assistant trainer, who is either a veteran or an active-duty spouse. WHTT trainers have been through the transitioning and enrollment process and can help women understand the health services offered by the VA, what women-specific services are available, and how to navigate the enrollment process.
“Participants will be able to ask any questions they have throughout the training,” said Rachel Johnston, the communications lead for Women’s Health Transition Training 2020 from Knowesis Inc. “They will often stay a little after the training to (let audience members) ask the trainers and the VA Women Veterans program manager any personal questions they may not feel comfortable asking in the open chat.”
Lorrie Guler, transition services manager for Fort Drum Soldier for Life – Transition Assistance Program, encourages transitioning servicewomen to register for the training, even if they feel adequately prepared about their health care. Guler said she observed a previous online session and she thought the information was useful to all participants.
“I found myself slip into my veteran self, learning about how the VA is addressing women-specific issues that were never addressed, or even acknowledged, when I retired,” Guler said. “I highly recommend this training to all female Soldiers, even those outside that 18-month transition window.”
Guler said that all participants receive a WHTT handbook, which includes multiple references to additional resources, and they will be able to download the slide presentation.
“In addition, SFL-TAP has representatives from the VA and local VA contacts who can provide assistance,” she said.
Over the last 20 years, VA Women’s Health Services has tracked VA health data and supplemented findings with published research on women in the military and female veterans. Recent studies show that women face unique and sometimes greater health-related challenges post military service compared to their male counterparts, yet fewer female veterans seek care in the VA than do men.
The latest available VA data shows that women with a psychiatric diagnosis do not connect with VA mental health care until a median of 2.4 years post military service, or until mental/physical health issues have manifested. Female veterans have higher rates of depression, musculoskeletal issues, chronic pain and obesity than do their male counterparts, and they experience an increasing risk of suicide among the younger age groups. Between 2001 and 2015, the age-adjusted rate of suicide among U.S. veteran females increased 62.4 percent across all age groups; in 2015, the rate of suicide among women veterans was twice the rate of civilian women ages 18 and older.
Dr. Nancy Maher, with the Department of Veterans Affairs Women’s Health Services, said this is why it is critical for women to enroll in VA services in a timely manner.
“The VA health care system is uniquely qualified to address these wide-ranging issues,” she said. “It has integrated mental health services within primary care, ensuring mental health needs, such as depression and PTSD, are immediately addressed to help prevent potential disease sequelae such as substance abuse and suicide. There is evidence to suggest this aggressive approach is effective, as one study reported female veterans have four times the elevated risk of suicide than do their male counterparts, but the risk was lower among VA-utilizing veterans (both sexes) than for non-VA utilizing veterans.”
For questions about the virtual training this week, call (315) 772-3284 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For all other questions about Fort Drum SFL-TAP and its services, call (315) 228-6718 or visit https://www.facebook.com/DrumSFLTAP/ for more information.
Story by Michael Strasser
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs