RICHMOND, Va. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is a part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers that have introduced legislation to improve services and access at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) for women veterans.
The legislation comes after a CBS 6 Problem Solvers investigation that detailed the struggle for female veterans to receive proper care once returning home.
CBS 6 spoke with Kenya Wheeler, a veteran who said she suffered “military sexual trauma" and developed post-traumatic stress disorder.
Because of her traumatizing experience, she preferred to be treated by female doctors and therapists, but that's not always an option at VA hospitals.
"This is supposed to be where we go to get treatment, but increasingly, I'm finding it very difficult to get treatment that's even fair," Wheeler said.
During that investigation CBS 6 spoke with Kaine, who said the VA was making progress, but more needed to be done.
“I am going to continue to press that the VA has broader hiring authorities to bring in specialist who can meet the needs of all of our veterans, but recognizing that our women veterans have been under served in the past and we've got catch up to play," Kaine said in February.
The proposed bill, called the Deborah Sampson Act, would address gender disparities at the VA to ensure that women veterans get equitable care.
Kaine said the proposed legislation provides woman veterans with enhanced access to VA care to ensure they get the benefits “they have earned through their service.”
The bill would also address the needs of women veterans who are more likely to face homelessness, unemployment, and go without needed health care.
“As women continue to make up a larger portion of our veteran population in Virginia and across the country, the VA must adjust accordingly so it can provide the highest level of care to everyone who has served their country,” said Kaine. “This bill not only addresses cultural challenges in the VA but also critical capacity and resource challenges that my office has heard about directly from women veterans in Virginia, and I’m hopeful the Senate will make this a top priority this Congress.”
The group behind the bill includes Kaine, Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), John Boozman (R-AR) and Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (D-CT).
The Deborah Sampson Act has been endorsed by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA).
According to a statement released by Kaine, the Deborah Sampson Act does the following:
- Empowers women veterans by expanding peer-to-peer counseling, group counseling and call centers for women veterans,
- Improves the quality of care for infant children of women veterans by increasing the number of days of maternity care VA facilities can provide and authorizing medically-necessary transportation for newborns,
- Eliminates barriers to care by increasing the number of gender-specific providers and coordinators in VA facilities, training clinicians, and retrofitting VA facilities to enhance privacy and improve the environment of care for women veterans,
- Provides support services for women veterans seeking legal assistance and authorizes additional grants for organizations supporting low-income women veterans,
- Improves the collection and analysis of data regarding women and minority veterans, and expands outreach by centralizing all information for women veterans in one easily accessible place on the VA website.
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