VA care for women too restrictive, group says:


By Rick Maze - Staff writer

Posted : Wednesday Aug 11, 2010 13:50:15 EDT

The creation of health clinics specifically for female veterans at Veterans Affairs Department hospitals may be having the unintended effect of limiting women’s access to routine medical care, according to a report being prepared as part of a AmVets-sponsored symposium about problems facing new veterans.

A working group of current and former service members looking at veterans health care issues raised concerns that women may have a harder time than men being seen by their primary care physicians because of a policy that restricts women to being seen only when those physicians rotate through the women’s health clinics, said Ryan Gallucci, an AmVets’ spokesman, said.

If a female veteran’s primary care physician sees patients in the women’s clinic only one afternoon a week, which seems to be a normal rotation, that veteran could see the physician only on that one afternoon. Male veterans, however, could see that physician on any day he takes appointments, Gallucci said.

“We think having women veterans’ health clinics is a good thing, and there is a need for them, but we do not think the result should be that women are more limited than men in getting primary care appointments,” Gallucci said.

AmVets working groups, which looked at a variety of veterans issues, created a list of items that need attention as part of the organization’s convention in Louisville, Ky., that ended Wednesday. AmVets officials plan to use the recommendations to prepare a formal presentation to be delivered to Congress and VA with specific proposals to change law or policy, Gallucci said. A report listing AmVets’ priorities could be completed as early as Oct. 1, he said.

Another health care issue raised by working groups involves a belief by some veterans that VA doctors are quick to prescribe medications instead of trying to diagnose and treat more complicated service-connected issues, Gallucci said.

“A specific complaint is that doctors are quick to hand out a drug like Ambien rather that look further into a veterans’ problems,” he said. “One veteran said he was handed Ambien and told to just go relax.”

Ambien is a widely prescribed sedative often used for minor sleep disorders.

Gallucci said he was not sure how this complaint could be resolved because without knowing specifics, it is difficult to determine if medication is the best treatment. He noted that this is a complaint also heard outside of VA medicine.

Another issue raised by working groups that Gallucci said AmVets hopes to work on involves complaints that families of veterans are left out of briefings and have little access to information about programs that could help veterans. This is true, he said, for briefings provided to service members who are still on active duty but soon to separate and also for briefings for veterans when they apply for benefits or receive treatment from VA.

“Not including families is a mistake, one we hope to do something about,” he said.

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