VA Adapts to Changing Demographics: Improving Healthcare for Women Veterans
Women are entering the military in record numbers. Women make up 20% of new recruits, and it is estimated that women Veterans will comprise 10% of the Veteran population by 2018. Moreover, studies suggest that Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) Veterans are among the fastest growing segments of new VA healthcare users, with as many as 44% electing to use VA healthcare.1 However, gender-specific care (e.g., reproductive health services) and care for conditions of higher prevalence among women (e.g., osteoporosis), or with different clinical presentations (e.g., heart attacks) impose challenges for VA providers with limited exposure to female patients.
In response to the changing demographic in the Veteran population and the specialized healthcare needs of women, VA established women's health as a research priority in the early 1990s. For example, VA has established a new division within the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder devoted to studying the impact of military trauma on women Veterans. In addition, VA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) tasked a VA Women's Health Research Planning Group that worked to develop a comprehensive research agenda for women Veterans - and to position VA as a national leader in women's health research.
The Planning Group held a Women's Health Research agenda setting conference in November 2004, and identified key research priorities. Continuing this work, HSR&D and the Women Veterans Health Strategic Healthcare Group co-sponsored a conference in 2010 titled "Using Research to Build the Evidence Base for Improving the Quality of Care for Women Veterans: VA Women's Health Services Research Conference." This conference brought together investigators interested in pursuing research on women Veterans, and women serving in our military, with leaders in women's healthcare delivery and policy within and outside the VA (e.g., DoD, NIH, IOM). As a result, HSR&D is generating an updated VA women's health research agenda. In addition, 16 peer-reviewed articles summarizing VA and military health services research results will appear in the journal Women's Health Issues in the Spring of 2011.
Research at Work
HSR&D continues to contribute to the growing body of research being conducted to improve the health and healthcare of women Veterans in an array of areas, such as mental health, reproductive health, and chronic disease. For more information, see the links to the right.
1. Mattocks K, Skanderson M, Goulet J, et al. Pregnancy and mental health among women Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Journal of Women's Health December 2010;19(12):2159-2166.