Over the years that U.S. troops have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, women service members have struggled to find suitable care in a veterans health system that’s been slow to recognize their needs and doesn’t always honor their service.

The Veterans Affairs system’s failings will only become more obvious as the number of women using VA facilities continues to soar. But there’s been leadership on this issue in Maine, where a separate clinic at the VA Maine Healthcare System at Togus allows women veterans to get care in a setting where they’re respected. Women who have served their country shouldn’t have to fight at home for equal medical treatment, and it’s heartening to hear that Togus recognizes this.

The number of female veterans using the VA health service rose 80 percent between 2003 and 2012, and demand is expected to keep soaring along with the total number of female veterans, the VA recently told The Washington Post.

But the system hasn’t kept up with this influx. VA facilities don’t offer prenatal care or deliver babies; some facilities have to refer women elsewhere for basic services like mammograms or Pap tests; dozens don’t have full-time gynecologists.

In a stunning example of disregard for women’s health, the Post talked with Brenda Reed. The retired Army sergeant spent 2½ years trying to get a properly fitting prosthetic—– in place of a foot that she’d had to have amputated because of years of damage from combat boots made for men.

In Maine, though, the VA has taken major steps to meet women’s needs. The old Togus women’s clinic had been on the fifth floor of the main hospital building — a setting where male veterans sometimes assumed that the women were wives or sisters of patients, LaRhonda Harris, R.N., women veterans program manager for Maine, told the Kennebec Journal last year.

A new women’s clinic, housed in a different building from the main clinic, opened at Togus in June 2014. It provides primary care, mental health services, obstetrics and gynecology and military sexual trauma counseling. The waiting room has a play area and toys for kids, and there’s even a private lactation room, Harris informed a Boston Globe reporter for a story published in May.

Facilities like Togus, which are making such strides, should be a model for VA health centers across the country. It’s the least we as a country can do for the women who have done so much for us.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.