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VA focuses on gender gap in health care

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CJ Parker is a Navy vet and photojournalist who volunteers for NUVO as an occasional correspondant on veterans affairs.
  • CJ Parker is a Navy vet and photojournalist who volunteers for NUVO as an occasional correspondant on veterans affairs.

Gains in identifying alcohol misuse and screening for post-traumatic stress disorder are among the signs of improvement the Department of Veterans Affairs noted in new reports tracking efforts to reduce disparities identified in the delivery of health care to military men and women.

Authors noted that gender disparities, and gaps in health care outcomes are not limited to military facilities. "In fact," they wrote, "performance on Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set measures for both men and women in VA exceeds the private sector for many measures."

Nearly 293,000 female veterans turned to the Veterans Health Administration for services in 2009, an 83 percent increase since 2000. Launched in 2008 to address "significant differences in quality outcomes on gender-neutral measures in women compared to men," the Women's Health Improvement Initiative is meant to help improve health care across various performance measures.

Female veterans still experience disparities in some treatments of heart disease, diabetes and flu vaccine distribution, but the most recent reviews indicate reductions in gender disparity for hypertension, colon cancer screening, flu and pneumonia vaccine, alcohol misuse screening, diabetes screening, depression and PTSD screening.

"While we've made tremendous progress in narrowing these gaps, some disparities still do persist," said Dr. Sally Haskell, acting director of Comprehensive Women's Health at the VHA's Women Veterans Health Strategic Health Care Group.

"We are not going to stop working until all the gaps are eliminated.We at the VHA are aiming to be a leader in the area of health care for women and try to set the bar for the care of all women nationally."

More than 8 percent of U.S. current veterans are women. Females comprise 11.6 percent of veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.

"We certainly plan to continue monitoring all of these measures," Haskell said. "I think that a big step for us right now is trying to focus more on the few remaining areas where we still see these gaps. We can try to focus on understanding why these gaps are here, and what we can do to close them even further. It's about us working with the veterans, understanding their needs and providing them the services that they need."

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) cases are also receiving increased attention. Female veterans have much higher rates of MST — about one in five report issues with sexual assault or harassment. Among males the MST rate is one in 100, but with so many more potential victims, officials have counted almost as many male MST cases as female.

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