Women serve in a full range of roles in the military but, according to a recent report by Southern California Public Radio, they don't always feel adequately recognized or visible once they leave the armed forces and return to civilian life. The Department of Veterans Affairs, to its credit, has resolved to take steps to change this status quo and give female veterans a reception equal to that of their male peers. Taking the next step in such processes is critical in taking the next steps and improving the VA overall.

Becoming welcoming to women
According to the report, VA officials realize that a lack of services for women has resulted from the organization's founding with men in mind. Their task now is to expand the purview of VA hospitals and other affiliated agencies. Dr. Patty Hayes, who is serving at the chief consultant in the effort to serve female veterans more effectively, told Southern California Public Radio that today, 15 percent of individuals leaving the armed forces are women. During World War II, the figure was only 2 percent, which is a large reason why the system was created the way it was.

The news provider cited stories from women who have felt overlooked, either when going for care or in general. There is still a mainstream perception that military careers are solely male, and female veterans can have an uphill struggle to be recognized for their accomplishments and receive the treatments they need.

"It's weird to me that people don't think, or even let it into their head, that females go into the military and serve their country as well as men do," Ramona Yates, a Marine Corps veteran, explained to Southern California Public Radio. "It's interesting and bothersome at the same time."

Do women feel welcome at veterans' programs? If not, change must occur.Do women feel welcome at veterans' programs? If not, change must occur.

Yates told the radio station that she goes to a women-only clinic opened by the VA, but feels "invisible" when in other areas of the hospital. This is the kind of environment that will have to change as the VA grows and becomes more capable of supporting all service members in their needs, specifically in getting them the medical care they need.

A huge impact
As previously mentioned on this blog, the suicide rate among veterans remains staggering. Getting the rate down requires drastic attention and, relevant to the VA's female outreach efforts, women in particular can be prevented from taking their own lives through active engagement with medical services. A recent VA study determined that the suicide rate among female veterans increased 4.6 percent since 2001 for those in contact with the VA – and 98 percent for those who don't deal with the VA.

Seeing such plain evidence of the positive effect health services can have on individuals' lives, the need to make women feel more included becomes obvious. By increasing outreach and introducing specialized programs, the VA is in a position to positively impact lives. The armed forces today are more diverse than ever before, and the constant presence of female service members can't be ignored. Programs for veterans are moving in the right direction by acknowledging these individuals' contributions.