Study Shows Majority of Women Veterans Feel Welcome at VA
Women Veterans are a numerical minority in VA and while most feel welcome there, a minority (10%) recently reported feeling unwelcome. Women with trauma histories and experiences of sexual harassment in VA were less likely to report feeling welcome and were more likely to report delayed or missed care. In response, VA escalated ongoing efforts to ensure that women Veterans experience an environment in which they feel safe, welcome, and respected, and sought women Veterans' input on these efforts and potential future changes. Investigators in this study analyzed patient suggestions on how to make the VA healthcare system more welcoming to women. In August and September 2017, a survey was administered to a convenience sample of women Veterans (n=1,303) at 26 VA primary care and women's clinics that were part of VA's Women's Health Practice-Based Research Network, a national network of sites with a focus on supporting women's health research. The study cohort was comparable in frequency of VA services use and age to women Veteran VA users overall.
- Of the study participants, 85% felt welcome within the VA healthcare system.
- Overall, 490 distinct responses were provided to a question asking for suggestions to make VA more welcoming to women Veterans (260 comments and 230 suggestions).
- Comments included praise for VA (67%), as well as stories about feeling uncomfortable or harassed in VA (26%).
- Suggestions included those related to VA staff (31%: e.g., hiring more female staff members), the environment of care (18%: e.g., separate building or entrance for women’s clinics), additional resources for women Veterans (18%: e.g., peer support programs), clinical services for women Veterans (15%; e.g., more women’s providers), changing men Veterans’ behavior toward women Veterans at VA (5%), and making the treatment of women and men the same (5%).
- Given that many respondents identified staff gender sensitivity as an area in need of improvement, further attention should be paid to staff training, especially for new staff who may be unfamiliar with the male-dominated VA environment. Policies related to addressing harassment at multiple levels should
continue to be developed and implemented.
- The anonymous nature of the survey prevents linking responses to patient characteristics beyond those collected. Thus, the representativeness of the sample cannot be determined.
- Women Veterans who felt the least welcome may have been less likely to be present in VA clinics to respond to the survey.
This study was partly funded by HSR&D (PPO 18-112). Drs. Moreau, Dyer, Hamilton, Yano, and Klap are part of HSR&D’s Center for the Study of Healthcare Innovation, Implementation and Policy (CSHIIP), Los Angeles, CA; Drs. Golden and Frayne, Ms. Combs, and Ms. Carney are part of HSR&D’s Center for Innovation to Implementation (Ci2i), Palo Alto, CA.
Moreau J, Dyer K, Hamilton A, Golden R, Combs A, Carney D, Frayne S, Yano E, and Klap R. Women Veterans’ Perspectives on How to Make Veterans Affairs Healthcare Settings More Welcoming to Women. Women’s Health Issues. July-August 2020;30(4):299-305.