VA’s Center for Women Veterans is advancing a cultural transformation throughout VA and aims to serve as a portal – monitoring and coordinating VA’s benefit services, outreach and programs – for women Veterans. One advocate is Ashley Gorbulja-Maldonado, a VBA employee and Army National Guard Veteran, who empowers other women Veterans with her mantra, “I can, I will… watch me.”
While Gorbulja-Maldonado found a purpose raising money for homeless women Veterans and their children by participating in Ms. Veteran American, advocating for business resources through Veterati, working with the American Legion, and presenting at workshops and conferences and more, she’s also worked to get her own women Veteran peers to actively engage with VA’s Women’s Health Services, the Center for Women Veterans, and the Office of Suicide Prevention.
Since the suicide rate for women Veterans is approximately twice that of non-Veteran women, and recent studies have shown the rate of suicide to be higher among women who report having experienced military sexual trauma (MST), Gorbulja-Maldonado’s mantra stresses setting the example for others to follow – including coming to VA.
“For women feeling alone, I want them to remember that their feelings are just as important as their male counterparts, and that there are many people and resources who are there for them,” she said.
VA has enhanced the provision of care to staffing Women’s Health Primary Care Providers (WH-PCP) at every site of VA care. VA has implemented care delivery models that ensure women Veterans receive equitable, timely, high-quality primary health care from a single primary care provider.
“We know that national VA satisfaction and quality data indicate women who are assigned to a Women’s Health Primary Care Provider have higher satisfaction and higher quality of gender-specific care than those assigned to other providers,” said Dr. Patricia Hayes, VA Chief Consultant for Women’s Health Services. “And they are twice as likely to choose to stay in VA care over time. That is why we are concentrating our efforts on training staff and actively recruiting additional providers with experience in women’s health care.
Dr. Lisa Kearney, Acting Deputy Director of VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, says that women Veterans have choices with their health care. They can choose a provider’s gender, gender-sensitive treatment options, women-specific residential treatment programs, and more.
“Women Veterans are encouraged to voice their request,” Kearney said. “We empower them to voice their concerns, talk with their mental health champions and state what they need so they are heard.”
“Remember, the VA is your home,” Hayes-Byrd added. “You earned it and you deserve it, so use it!”
Women Veterans can connect with VA services by calling or texting the Women Veteran Call Center at 855-VA-Women (855-829-6636).
Angela Abel is a Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Counselor and a VetSuccess on Campus Counselor.