There’s endless talk about what VA gets wrong, but I’d like to call attention to something very critical they’re getting very right.
Nine months ago, I had my first child. As a disabled Marine Corps Veteran enrolled in VA healthcare, I was eligible to receive my maternity care through the department. While I had gone through the initial steps to do so, I opted to stay with my private OB-GYN because I already had an established relationship with that physician.
But that choice did not end my maternity journey with the VA. On the contrary, it sparked a months-long exercise in establishing trust and satisfaction with the lengths VA has gone to ensuring both my physical and mental well-being as I started my family.
To begin, the process was very clearly outlined for me had I chosen to stick with VA for my prenatal care and delivery. VA provided my breast pump quickly and easily, without hassle. And representatives from the women’s clinic at my VA hospital have called at regular intervals both pre- and postnatal to check in on me and update my records. They asked how I am feeling, if I am still nursing and taking my vitamins and if there is anything they can do or appointments that they can arrange.
As much as I love my private OB-GYN practice, the truth is once I had my baby they all but fell off the map. Nine months after my son was born, I’m still receiving check-up calls from VA. It makes me feel valued and cared for, as a veteran and as a mother.
I recently received a call from my local VA informing me of a telehealth option specifically for new mothers. The University of Iowa recently partnered with VA to offer a toll-free counseling line and complimentary online treatment program for moms who may be experiencing postpartum depression or its associated symptoms.
The program—called MomMoodBooster—has real potential to help the 1 in 8 mothers who suffer from postpartum depression. This is the kind of truly innovative, on-demand and convenient option VA—and new mothers—need. Programs like these, along with other prenatal mental health treatment options, are especially important as an estimated 20 percent of female Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD can not only worsen during pregnancy, but can predispose mothers to post-birth mental health illness and elevate the risk of preterm birth.
My own experience with VA maternity care has changed the way I look at the system and its commitment to getting things right for Veterans. It’s clear to me that a cultural shift is taking place within VA, and this is an excellent example of the standard of care that many Veterans are now receiving and that others should be receiving.
I now know one thing for sure. Should I look to expand my family in the future, I won’t hesitate to use VA for my maternity care.
Editor’s note: For more information about the VA Office of Rural Health online PPD treatment program, please contact the MomMoodBooster program by phone, toll free, at 1-866-849-6636.
Ashleigh Byrnes, a combat veteran of the Afghanistan War, is the deputy national communications director of the 1.3 million-member DAV and manages and produces a wide variety of written, photographic and multi-media projects for DAV’s internal and external communications programs. A life member of DAV Chapter 10 in Fairfax, Virginia, Byrnes enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in January 2004. Following duty as a broadcast journalist with American Forces Network Tokyo in 2009, Byrnes deployed to Afghanistan where she established and led the American Forces Network Kandahar news bureau to expand military broadcast coverage of combat operations.