By Karen Parrish
WASHINGTON, July 19, 2011 - The newly formed VA Task Force on Women Veterans will go a long way in addressing key benefits gaps to female veterans, according to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.
While support for women veterans has improved, "it has not been enough," Shinseki said during the 2011 National Training Summit on Women Veterans held here on July 16.
The task force's "near-term mission," he said, is to develop - in coordination with VA's Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, and in conjunction with the Defense Department - a comprehensive VA action plan that will focus on key issues facing women veterans and the specific actions needed to resolve them.
Those issues include obstetric and gynecological care, childcare, military sexual trauma, homelessness, aging and end-of-life issues, among others, the secretary said.
A draft of the plan is due to Shinseki on Jan. 1 and "will set our course for the next four years in everything we do, from planning to programming, to budgeting, to education and training," he said.
The action plan will update and inform VA's approach to women's issues within its health care, benefits, and cemetery administrations, as well as the Women's Advisory Report to Congress, due next July, the secretary said.
"Other changes are in the pipeline, such as our pilot program to provide child care services," he said.
Beginning this summer, Shinseki said, three new drop-in child care pilot programs for women veterans with VA appointments will open in Northport, N.Y., Buffalo, N.Y., and Tacoma, Wash.
Battlefield changes, such as increasingly blurred front lines, has increased VA's attention on women veterans, Shinseki said.
Last month, a 20-year-old Army military policewoman, Spc. Devin Snyder, became the 28th female service member to die in Afghanistan when her convoy was attacked on a highway in eastern Laghman province, Shinseki said.
"Wars, with no clear front lines, put soldiers - all soldiers- at risk as never before, blurring the boundaries between combat and other than combat roles," he said.
In recent years, VA has developed women's primary care programs at their health care facilities across the nation, and has hired program managers and coordinators to manage care for women veterans, the secretary said.
The department also has accelerated its women's health research in biomedical, clinical sciences, rehabilitation, and health services, he said.
Most recently, Shinseki said, the VA launched a women veterans call-in center to directly solicit input into ways the department can improve its services.
"I want women veterans and women serving in uniform ... to see and know that VA is committed to fulfilling [their] needs," he said.
Erik K. Shinseki