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VA Must Improve MST Screening

Reprinted from PN June 2011

According to a recent PR Newswire press release, nearly 40% of female veterans surveyed by The American Legion about VA healthcare were dissatisfied with the screening process for military sexual trauma (MST). Among those, 26% are “very dissatisfied” with the process, which mandates that all enrolled veterans be universally screened for MST.

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According to a recent PR Newswire press release, nearly 40% of female veterans surveyed by The American Legion about VA healthcare were dissatisfied with the screening process for military sexual trauma (MST). Among those, 26% are “very dissatisfied” with the process, which mandates that all enrolled veterans be universally screened for MST.

These and other findings from the Legion-sponsored survey were made available March 22 during a press conference at the National Press Club. The online survey was conducted January 5–31 by ProSidian Consulting, LLC, based in Charlotte, N.C. At the press conference, Legion officials and ProSidian staff explained results of the 67-question survey, which was taken by 3,012 U.S. military women veterans worldwide.

The survey provided an assessment of specialized services for women at VA and wasn’t designed to present a reflection of general VA services women receive, according to ProSidian.

Among the findings: one in three female VA healthcare users reported dissatisfaction with their most recent experience with VA’s Women Veterans Program manager, who counsels female patients in the system. The survey suggests there is room for significant improvement for VA to provide gender-specific services such as PAP smears and mammograms. And 38% of respondents wouldn’t use a VA doctor for a second opinion—even if that opinion were offered at no charge.

“Research on this subject is important, yet it’s lacking,” says Verna Jones, director of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division. “Women represent a vastly growing portion of U.S. veterans, comprising almost 20% of our armed forces and representing the fastest-growing population of the VA healthcare system.


“The results from this survey will be used to refine The American Legion’s outreach efforts (and) enhance its written and oral testimony to Congress and federal agencies. The survey results will also help identify unmet needs among women veterans and guide the development of strategic remedies.”

The survey results provided insight about the gap between desired and actual performance of the VA healthcare system for women using it. Of the 2,936 respondents who answered that specific question, 63% were enrolled in the VA healthcare system. Of those, almost 30% were dissatisfied with the “reliability” of healthcare provided by VA when compared to private healthcare providers, and more than 30% were dissatisfied when they compared VA’s “responsiveness” to that of private healthcare providers.

About 30% of respondents reported they were not allowed an appropriate amount of time with their provider to discuss their specific health-related issues, and 38% expressed at least some level of dissatisfaction when asked to compare the credibility of VA’s healthcare against similar services by private practitioners. Eleven percent were “very dissatisfied.”

“About 66% of the women…not only registered for VA healthcare service but they also maintained their private healthcare service,” says Adrian Woolcock, managing principal of ProSidian. “In addition in that subset, only 40% have ever used VA. The women veterans overall know what their benefits are. It’s really a matter of focusing on improving the quality of service provided to women veterans.”

Other findings from the survey:

Almost 25% of the respondents rated the convenience of VA facilities locations as poor, indicating that gender-specific care is difficult to obtain for a significant number of women.

More than 25% of those surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with VA in security-related issues, especially the degree of sensitivity surrounding patients’ personal information.

Approximately one-fourth of the respondents said they were dissatisfied with the level of competence demonstrated by VA health-care providers when compared to private practitioners.

Almost a quarter of the respondents gave VA a courtesy rating of “less than positive.”

Demographic information from the survey indicated 34.6% of respondents were between ages 52 and 61, while 24.9% were 42–51. Eighty percent were white. More than 68% were noncombat veterans; the highest percentage of combat veterans who responded (16%) served in Operations Iraqi or Enduring Freedom.

Some women who took the survey contacted The American Legion to offer details about their responses. They said they didn’t want a separate VA healthcare system for women; rather, they want the same quality healthcare men receive but tailored to meet gender-specific needs. Others hesitate to use VA facilities because they can’t get child care on the days of their appointments.  

“Changes in culture take time, and VA is starting to change its approach dealing with women veterans,” American Legion National Commander Jimmie L. Foster says. “VA healthcare needs to be more reliable, responsive, and competent in its treatment of women.”

Peter Gaytan, the Legion’s executive director in Washington, D.C., delivered a copy of the 82-page survey to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

“To move into the future, we have to recognize the changing demographics of America’s veteran population,” Gaytan says. “The commitment of this organization is to take this information, stand side by side with the leadership of the Department of Veterans Affairs, (and) say there’s a need to listen to what’s being said.”

The complete survey is at www.legion.org.

 

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VA Must Improve MST Screening

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