Many military women are coming home from the Middle East feeling more defeated here than at war. However, there are new initiatives to help them put the pieces of their lives back together. A perfect example of that is the Women's Health Center at the Michael E. Debakey VA Medical Center in Houston.
It's becoming well known as a safe haven for women. It has its very own entrance for women and for now, it's all female caretakers. That means women no longer share a space with men in the main V.A. hospital. Veteran Romaine Barnett says this is a big deal!
"Huge, okay? I have a lady working with me who just got out of the military. She walked in front of the building (men's section) and had to stop in her tracks and she had to be walked out of there, then help her come around to find the Women's Center. To have a clinic annexed from outside door is incredible! This gives women an opportunity to feel safe, if they need that. I've worked through it, don't need that, but some people are traumatized right now," explains Barnett.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has taken on thousands of complaints that healthcare is geared toward men veterans. Our local V.A. Hospital is doing something about it. Several years ago, they hired Nurse Practitioner Pamela Swope to help them make women a priority. As Program Manager, patients tell us she has helped shape the program into the huge success it is today. She says many more hires have helped them reach their goal.
"We recently hired a new Psychiatrist to come over and develop more programs for counseling, individual and group, so we're excited about new programs," explains Swope.
It's important because women are coming back from war with what used to be considered a man's issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and amputations. Now many women, who had their claims of PTSd denied under old policies, can reapply for benefits. Most women can't overcome the disorder without treatment. An estimated 3,500 women Veterans, now homeless, many of them with multiple children, are desperate for this improved care. The health condition can be even tougher on women because of their domestic duties needed at home. The Medical Director of the Women's Health Center says it's a huge plus that they've expanded their mental health services for females.
"We have a very exciting and specific program to this facility for inpatient help for women veteran's health issues, specifically catering to post traumatic stress syndrome for female veterans. It's a unique one-of-its-kind program," says Dr. Rola Elserag.
It's called Women's Inpatient Specialty Environment of Recovery or WISER program. Psychologists often tell veteran patients, "We're not locking you in, but locking them out". Dr. Elserag says The V.A. educates their doctors to never separate mental health from other medical care ... it's a piece of the important health puzzle.
"It's marvelous, because you have so many women who have been on the front line in Iraq, so it's a whole new ball game. They've come back with same problems the male vets came with. Now there's someone to help them take care of it and deal with it," says veteran Linda Todar.
Women are now coming from all over the country for this state-of-the-art care. The clinic offers everything from cancer screenings, infertility treatment, to maternity care benefits, and everything in between. It's a health center that is often touted as getting mommy marching back home and feeling better than ever.
"The V.A. has made incredible strides. They've always taken care of males, but now they're doing a phenomenal job with women! You come here and know you're cared for and they care and it's a huge difference," says Todar.
To learn more about the programs offered at Michael E. Debakey VA Medical Center, visit http://www.houston.va.gov/Women_Veterans.asp