Our female veteran population continues to grow each day as more and more women answer the call to serve our nation in uniform. Today, there are more than two million women veterans in the United States. There are over 20,000 women veterans in Arkansas alone. We are so proud of these patriots and their many contributions to our nation. Our country owes a great debt of gratitude to these brave women and their families. Our military is stronger today for their service.
I recently met with a group of veterans in Fayetteville and one of the top concerns they raised to me was the continued inequality of healthcare between men and women. They spoke of the shortage of women’s health primary care providers within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); the lack of respect sometimes shown to our women veterans by VA staff; and, sadly, about the mistaken assumption that a woman was someone’s military spouse—rather than the veteran. This is outdated thinking. We need to do better.
Senator John Tester (D-MT) and I have set out to correct this inequity. The Deborah Sampson Act, a bipartisan bill we recently introduced, seeks to improve the benefits and services our nation provides to our women veterans—benefits and services these brave women veterans, and their families, have rightly earned and justly deserve. From establishing peer-to-peer counseling and outreach for women veterans, to retrofitting VA medical centers with necessary features to enhance privacy and care—our bill aims to comprehensively improve the assistance and support we provide to our women veterans. These initiatives will help right a wrong, and ensure our female veterans get needed services that VA simply is not providing right now.
This bill is needed to bring VA facilities and VA programs into the modern era. The changing face of our military requires us to reexamine the services and care we’re providing our veterans. We need to update the way we’re doing business to ensure we’re meeting the unique needs of today’s entire veteran community.
At a press conference unveiling the bill, Senator Tester and I were joined by our colleague, Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), as well as the sponsor of the companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) and members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association (IAVA), a leading veterans service organization representing post 9/11 veterans. Their leadership on this bipartisan legislation will help us get these worthwhile initiatives passed into law.
Similar to the barriers these brave women have broken while serving in uniform, our bill seeks to eliminate remaining barriers in access and quality of care. As the father of three adult daughters, I believe these initiatives are the right thing to do, and overdue in so many cases. As the chief of staff for IAVA Alison Jaslow made clear during our press conference, until we get over the hurdle of how VA recognizes veterans, “we are not going to be able to get everything else that we [female veterans] need.”
VA can and should be an inclusive environment, an agency that welcomes all generations of our veterans, male and female. We can’t allow outdated policies, procedures and outlooks to bring about unequal and inadequate care. We can do better and this bipartisan bill would put VA on track to meeting the needs of every veteran.