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VA Women's Health Research Featured at FOVA Congressional Briefing

March 2, 2016

Women Veterans are now among the fastest growing segment of new users of VA healthcare, and more than 50% of women Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are enrolling for VA services. Sally Haskell, MD, MS, Deputy Chief Consultant for Women's Health Services, VA Central Office, and Elizabeth Yano, PhD, MSPH, Director of HSR&D's Center for the Study of Healthcare Innovation, Implementation and Policy (CSHIIP) and Director of the Women Veterans Healthcare CREATE, presented an update on VA women's health research during a Congressional briefing sponsored by the Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research (FOVA). Founded more than 20 years ago, FOVA members regularly brief members of Congress on the funding needs of VA healthcare and research, and raise awareness of VA's medical care and research programs.

Dr. Haskell discussed the Women Veterans Cohort Study (WVCS), which was developed to help VA providers understand gender differences in health outcomes and healthcare use after combat exposure. As a result of the first phase of this study – conducted from November 2007 through October 2012 and including data on over 900,000 Veterans – more than 25 papers were published on topics such as medical and mental health outcomes, pain and musculoskeletal conditions, reproductive health, PTSD, and substance use disorder. One of the many important findings from this research showed that in the first year after deployment, female OEF/OIF Veterans were more likely to have depression and musculoskeletal disorders than male Veterans. Phase two of WVCS began in 2014 and will focus on three areas identified as being of particular importance to the health of both male and female Veterans returning from deployment: 1) development of cardiovascular risk, 2) mental health conditions, and 3) musculoskeletal conditions.

Dr. Yano highlighted the important progress in advancing women Veterans' research over the past decade. For example, HSR&D funded the Women's Health Research Network, which consists of two partnered components – the Women's Health Research Consortium (WHRC) and the Women Veterans' Practice-Based Research Network (PBRN). The Network works to enhance VA women's health services research studies by engaging multiple stakeholders, including VA leadership, clinicians, researchers, and Veterans. Dr. Yano also emphasized six priorities areas for women Veterans' research: 1) access, 2) primary care/prevention, 3) mental health, 4) post-deployment health, 5) complex chronic conditions and long term care, and 6) reproductive health. Moreover, HSR&D's research portfolio continues to expand into areas of particular importance to women Veterans, such as intimate partner violence, maternity care coordination, gender disparities in satisfaction with VA care, as well as work and family functioning.

The VA healthcare system is unique in having embedded MD and PhD researchers dedicated to advancing scientific knowledge and using research to transform women Veterans' care and experiences. To read more about research in this area, visit the HSR&D website on women's health.