During National Women’s Health Week (May 10-16), we celebrate our women Veterans and VA’s commitment to providing them with high quality, comprehensive, gender-sensitive mental health care. Women Veterans are the fastest growing segment of VA users. Over the past nine years, there has been a 130% increase in the number of women Veterans who received VA mental health care.
Compared to male Veterans, women Veterans are more likely to have certain mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, as well as co-occurring mental and physical health problems. These can influence treatment planning and the need for coordinated care among different specialists and clinics. Women Veterans are also more likely than their male counterparts to experience certain types of gender-based violence, such as intimate partner violence and military sexual trauma. Biological differences between men and women may also require special care. For example, addressing women’s reproductive mental health concerns, such as postpartum depression or the effects of medication on a woman and her baby, requires specific knowledge and services.
To meet women Veterans’ mental health needs, VA provides comprehensive mental health services, including general outpatient, specialty services, evidence-based therapies, and inpatient and residential treatment options for women. “One size doesn’t fit all. Women Veterans enter our care at different phases of their life and with different backgrounds, experiences, and goals,” explains Susan McCutcheon, RN, EdD, VA’s National Director of Family Services, Women’s Mental Health, and Military Sexual Trauma. For this reason, treatments may be provided in women-only or mixed-gender settings, and options are available to meet each Veteran’s clinical needs and treatment preferences. “Our programs and policies recognize the importance of offering choice, flexibility and options of care, and of tailoring treatment to best meet the individual needs of each women Veteran.”
One women Veteran who has received VA mental health services is Julianne. Julianne was diagnosed with thyroid cancer while on active duty service in Iraq. During her cancer treatment at the Palo Alto VA Medical Center, she was referred to the facility’s Women’s Counseling Center for further evaluation of her PTSD symptoms. She has been going to that clinic for the past two years and has learned many skills to manage daily stress and her PTSD symptoms.
“I am able to function today because of the skills that I learned at the clinic,” says Julianne, “I no longer binge eat when I am stressed, or avoid the problem. Before, I didn’t know how to hold a job. But now, I am going through school for a graduate degree in applied anthropology.” She is particularly grateful for the care she received at the Women’s Counseling Center because it specifically focuses on the needs of women Veterans.
Through that clinic, Julianne has met other women who share her experience as a Veteran. She finds it helpful to talk with other women Veterans about her problems and ways to work on them, and feels at ease in the clinic’s comfortable setting. She feels confident in her ability to apply the skills she has learned to face daily challenges, and draws strength the support she receives from her VA mental health team and from other women Veterans.
Today, Julianne is inspired to be a Veterans Outreach Coordinator. Through her own experience with VA, she knows the importance of matching treatment to the individual Veteran’s needs and preferences. She wants to help others to connect with the right people and organizations and keep moving forward like she is.
For more information on VA’s mental health services for women Veterans, please visit Women Veterans Mental Health. Women Veterans Health Care provides comprehensive information on primary care as well as specialty care such as reproductive services, rehabilitation, mental health, and services for military sexual trauma. Center for Women Veterans offers additional resources and information for women Veterans, serving as an advocate in recognizing the service and contributions of women Veterans and women in the military, and in raising awareness of the responsibility to treat women Veterans with dignity and respect.