Women Vets

As part of Republican Leadership Kay Bailey Hutchison does not often stand shoulder to shoulder with Washington Democrat Patty Murray. But the two agree that women veterans have unique needs when it comes to medical services.

"Women veterans have some different issues from men's veterans whether it is mental health, post traumatic stress from combat duties or from the sexual trauma that can be faced."

Hutchison says that the num! ber of women entering the VA system is expected to double over the next five years.

"So, looking at their unique issues is a priority whose time has come."

Hutchison and Murray both serve on the Senate Veterans' Affairs committee. Female veterans often approach the two of them in particular. Murray says at meetings men open up publicly about their experiences at war and subsequent concerns about treatment at VA hospitals.

"They'd sit at the table with me, they'd stand up in the audience, they'd tell their stories and inevitably as I was leaving the room, a woman vet would come up to me and whisper her experiences in my ear."

There is support in the House for Hutchison's Women Veterans Heath Care Improvement Act of 2008. Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee's district includes the Michael E. Debakey VA Medical Center. She says while the VA system has been successful overall! , she's glad to see more focus on female veterans.

"A system that has worked for many, many years, still needs, if you will, adjusting to the new population of women soldiers- increasing population of women soldiers."

Jackson Lee says the VA system is unaccustomed to the many needs that women have.

"As mothers, as single parents, as sexual victims- if you will- of rape or abuse, of diseases that impact women in particular- obviously breast cancer that afflict not only the veterans, but also the soldiers who will come out and ultimately be veterans."

The new legislation would focus more VA health research on these concerns, train psychologists specifically on military sexual trauma, and have clinics provide child care services. Hutchison says this framework will be appreciated by Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake.

"He specifically on his own has said we need to do more to make sure we are serving our women v! eterans."

But first the legislation has to pass through Congress. The Senate Veterans' Affairs committee is scheduled to consider the bill in the end of May.

From Capitol News Connection in Washington, I'm Jodi Breisler, Houston Public Radio News.

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