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VA officials create women veterans' call center

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The Department of Veterans Affairs is reaching out to women veterans in order to solicit their input on ways to enhance the health care services VA provides to women veterans.

"We are taking a proactive approach to enhancing VA health care for women veterans," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "We are seeking the input of women veterans so that VA can continue to provide high-quality health care to the growing numbers of women veterans."

Representatives at VA's Health Resource Center are placing calls to women veterans nationwide, asking them to share their VA experiences and suggest potential enhancements that will further VA's mission to provide the best care anywhere.

Women veterans are one of the fastest growing segments of the veteran population. Of the 22.7 million living veterans, more than 1.8 million are women. They comprise nearly 8 percent of the total veteran population and 6 percent of all veterans who use VA health care services.

VA officials estimate that by 2020, women veterans will constitute 10 percent of the veteran population and 9.5 percent of VA patients.

HRC representatives started placing calls June 1, and are contacting women veterans who have enrolled, but have not begun using VA services.

"Through this contact center, we are placing friendly, conversational calls to women veterans," said Patricia Hayes, the chief consultant of VA's Women Veterans Health Strategic Health Care Group. "We want these veterans and their caregivers to talk candidly about why they are not using VA, whether they are aware of the gender-specific services we offer, and what additional services they would like to see VA offer."

The HRC representatives making the calls are also informing women veterans about the services VA offers and quickly connecting them with appropriate departments if they are interested in trying VA health care, officials said. Veterans who have complaints about VA are connected to a patient advocate who helps resolve issues.

VA has trained professionals in all aspects of women's health, officials said, including general primary care, osteoporosis management, heart disease, mental health care, menopausal services and obesity-related issues, such as diabetes.

Preventive screenings for breast and cervical cancer are also areas in which VA excels, officials said. Soon, at all VA facilities, women veterans will be able to receive comprehensive primary care from a single provider.

The Women Veterans Health Care program has made significant changes in the last few years to enhance the health care offered to eligible women veterans, officials said. This progress includes:

-- Adopting key policies to improve access and enhance services for women veterans
-- Implementing comprehensive primary care for women veterans
-- Conducting cutting-edge research on the effects of military service on women's lives
-- Improving communication and outreach to women veterans
-- Providing mental health, homelessness and other services designed to meet the unique needs of women veterans

For more information about VA programs and services for women veterans, visit www.va.gov/womenvet and www.publichealth.va.gov/womenshealth.