No. 025-00  
     IMMEDIATE RELEASE                            June 9, 2000                           (301) 585-4000


YALE RESEARCHER, VETERANS ADVOCATE TESTIFIES THAT VA SHORTAGES WOMEN VETS


WASHINGTON, D.C.- A prominent scientist and veteran's advocate testified before Congress today that the Veteran's Administration (VA) fails on numerous fronts to address the health needs of women veterans.

Linda Spoonster Schwartz, a Yale School of Nursing researcher and chair of the VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, criticized the VA's refusal to study the health of women veterans specifically. The VA contends that "many biological processes are common to both men and women."

"There is no doubt that there is a pervasive and disingenuous attitude that programs for women veterans are 'window dressing,' trivial or optional. We have encountered these sentiments at every echelon of the Department of Veteran Affairs," said Schwartz, a retired Air Force major.

Schwartz cited a number of specific deficiencies in services for women vets, including compensation for mastectomies, sexual assault counseling and assistance for homeless women. The VA has refused to offer the same compensation for a mastectomy that it does for the loss of an extremity or physical sense. Schwartz spoke in favor of legislation introduced by US

Reps. Lane Evans and Shelley Berkley that would provide such compensation. "This is another challenge for the VA system to begin to officially acknowledge that the physiology of a woman does differ from that of a man and needs to be considered from a holistic perspective," she said.

While praising the "sterling effort" the VA has made to provide counseling for those who have experienced sexual assault and trauma while in the military, Schwartz decried the fact that the program is scheduled to end and called upon Congress to establish a permanent program.

Schwartz also called on the VA to better provide for homeless women veterans. "Women veterans who are homeless also have needs and problems that vary from those of male veterans who are homeless. These challenges range from privacy and childcare to treatment for physical and sexual abuse and prenatal care," she said. Schwartz said that Congressional funding to address these special needs is often absorbed by other VA programs, thus never benefiting the women for whom it was intended.

Several of the concerns that she raised crossed gender lines. For example, Schwartz discussed the need for the VA to do more outreach to inform veterans about the services to which they are entitled. She called for more investigation into birth defects of children born to mothers or fathers who served in Vietnam.

Schwartz also argued that reservists and National Guard members who are injured or become ill in the line of duty should receive the same benefits as they would in active duty. Reservists and National Guard members, who now compromise nearly half of the US armed forces, are not entitled to many veterans benefits if injured while serving. Private insurance, however, does not cover them because injuries sustained during military service are considered "an act of war." Schwartz herself was injured during an aircraft accident as a reservist flight nurse and faced a long arduous battle to get access to benefits and services.

VVA's point of contact for additional information is Mokie Porter at (301) 585-4000.

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Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is the nation's only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated solely to the needs of Vietnam-era veterans and their families.  VVA's founding principle is  "Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another."   

 

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