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PVA From The Top - Serving PVA Women's Members

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News August 2017

I believe it’s important to serve our female members the best we can and to make them understand they, too, are stakeholders in PVA.

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I recently read a study that women account for approximately 30% of our active military. It brought me to the realization that female Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) membership will continue to increase due to the same devastating injuries and diagnoses that bring male veterans to PVA. This is a part of our organization’s future that’s important to me and one I’m making a priority in my time as national president. So I did some more research. While reading Immediate-Past National President Al Kovach Jr.’s article last year on Support for Women Veterans (August 2016 PN), many questions came to my mind:

  • Is current Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) care for women sufficient, especially in specialized services?  
  • How will the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 affect our female veterans seeking health care? 
  • Do private health care professionals speak “veteran” to the women they serve, as they do with male veterans? And do they understand what that means?
  • Do private health care professionals know how to adequately treat post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury associated with combat and veterans’ issues?

 

The VA recently partnered with a group called leanin.org to help female veterans create mentoring opportunities. They’re a group that creates virtual and physical support circles to help empower and educate women in a comfortable social setting. They have a few military circles, but I’m not sure if they provide healing opportunities or are accessible to PVA members. I’m going to research this option more and encourage all of our women members to do the same.

In the past few years, PVA has been doing its own homework on how we communicate with and represent women veterans. In May 2016, PVA did a pilot study of 112 women veteran members who either sustained a traumatic spinal-cord injury (SCI) or were diagnosed with a condition affecting the spinal cord that resulted in paralysis. The results revealed an unfortunate lack of trust and dependency on the VA system of care. That’s concerning to me. Furthermore, as the PVA Field Advisory Committee and Medical Services staff have represented our female members during site visits to VA hospitals, SCI centers and clinics around the country and territories this last year, they discovered there’s a perception that the VA hasn’t been collecting data on women veterans’ needs or concerns. I hope that’s not true, because the opportunity to mine that data in the near future could be priceless.

Lastly, one of PVA’s biggest events of the year is this month, the PVA Summit + Expo. It’s our organization’s opportunity to educate and share research with more than 800 clinicians who specialize in spinal-cord injury/disease. This year, Director of the VA Center for Women Veterans Kayla Williams is presenting on a panel with two other experts on VA care, benefits and services for women veterans. This is an important step in the right direction, and I look forward to learning from them. While these issues and many others permeate the air surrounding our female members, I believe it’s important to serve our female members the best we can and to make them understand they, too, are stakeholders in PVA. I’m going to ask PVA staff, the field advisory committee and the Women Veterans Healthcare Committee to offer more ideas on how we can better serve our female veterans.

Based on the results and data I’ve already read, PVA can’t only use these groups’ guidance to help our female PVA members, but what they offer will help all members, spouses and caregivers in the future.

 

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PVA From The Top - Serving PVA Women's Members

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