Senate panel approves bill to improve VA care for female vets

WASHINGTON — The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday approved a measure to improve health care for female veterans.

"Planning for the wave of new women veterans is going to be a difficult and complex task, but this bill gets us on the right track," the measure's sponsor, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., told the committee.

The bill, among other things, would authorize programs to improve care for victims of military sexual trauma, require new studies of the problems women face when seeking treatment at the Department of Veterans Affairs and expand staff and training for those who serve women at the VA.

VA officials previously testified that they'd already taken steps to improve women's health care. They oppose many of the provisions in Murray's bill.

The bill was combined with several others into a larger omnibus bill that the committee approved on a voice vote. The prospects for the bill reaching the Senate floor were uncertain, with the chamber's legislative calendar already jammed and lawmakers hoping to go home in the early fall to campaign.

The legislation requires the VA, along with the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, to study the health consequences for women who've served in Iraq and Afghanistan and for the VA to create a pilot program providing child care services to female veterans who require intensive outpatient care.

The number of female veterans seeking medical services from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs is expected to double within the next five years. There are currently about 1.7 million female veterans, or 7 percent of the nation's nearly 25 million veterans. More than 250,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Female veterans have complained that the VA has a male-dominated atmosphere that can make them uncomfortable and that the VA has been to slow to provide such things as mammograms and pap smears.