New bill would require VA hospitals to have services for women veterans' health

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Women veterans can't always access the specific healthcare they need at VA hospitals. A new Congressional effort aims to change that. 

The Women Veterans Equal Access to Quality Care Act was introduced by Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., chairwoman of the new Women Veterans Task Force in Congress. The bill intends to "ensure that gender-specific services are continually available at every VA medical center and community-based outpatient clinic for our nation's women veterans," the announcement of the bill said. 

“As a longstanding member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I have heard too many stories about VA’s difficulty meeting the specific needs of women veterans,” Brownley said. “VA needs to adapt to the complex and unique needs of women veterans, and that means ensuring gender-specific healthcare services are available to them. My bill directs VA to provide these critical resources to women veterans, tackles the healthcare inequities and disparities in accessing quality and timely care, and ultimately improves the health outcomes and lives of women veterans across the nation.”

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), one of two VA watchdog groups, found that 39 of 145 VA medical centers or healthcare systems (27 percent) did not have an onsite gynecologist in 2015. 

Across the U.S., availability of mammography and OB/GYN care at VA hospitals is "inconsistent," Brownley said, even in facilities "serving large populations of women veterans." 

Brownley said that, according to VA, nine percent of private outpatient clinics partnered with the VA lacked a dedicated women's health provider. 

The bill would require the VA guarantee that gender-specific services such as preventative screening and gynecology specialty care are available at every VA hospital and private partner clinic and would also require VA to study the use of extended hours to reduce women veterans' barriers to care. 

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