Sunday, April 1, 2012

Stratton VA adds services for women vets

From Times Union : Stratton VA adds services for women vets
Stratton VA adds services for women vets
Women's wellness center answers needs of female veterans as ranks grow

Lillian Yonally, one of two remaining World War II WASPs and recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, listens as Congressmen Chris Gibson speaks during a grand opening and ribbon cutting of a new Women Veteran's Wellness Center at Stratton VA hospital in Albany N.Y., [in photo not shown here].

Four decades ago, Christine Hazuka came to the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center bleeding uncontrollably.

The Air Force veteran got her health care at the veteran's hospital, but that day in 1974, doctors told her the they didn't have a gynecologist and sent her home.

Hazuka nearly died from blood loss before she sought treatment at another hospital where she learned she had cancer.

"We were cast outs," Hazuka said of the treatment of women at the veteran's hospital. Hazuka, 65, of Albany, is now a medical clerk at the VA.

Women vets said they were treated like mental patients at the VA, there were no women's bathrooms in patient wings, the pajamas were made for men, and staff inevitably called them "Mister."

While care of women vets has improved, hospital leaders admit that the male-dominated setting still lacks sensitivity to women's issues. Until now.

The hospital celebrated the grand opening of a new Women Veteran's Wellness Center on Friday, hoping to reverse years of treating women veterans as outsiders by giving them a place of their own.

The newly renovated wing on the 8th floor has yellow walls, wood laminated floors, a lactation room, a large women's bathroom, purple gowns and female staff, including counselors, housekeepers, a primary care doctor and, yes, a gynecologist.

"Finally, we get a floor strictly for us," said Sharon Wheeler, 53, an Army veteran from Oneonta, Otsego County. "We won't be called 'Mister' anymore."

About 1,300 women veterans receive health services at the Stratton VA, but hospital officials believe it is only a small fraction of the women eligible to get care there.

"They think the VA is a place for old men," said Jane Weber, women veteran's program manager at Stratton.

The military is now 16 percent female and women account for 14 percent of veterans.

"Not too long ago, the average age of a woman veteran using the VA was around 60 years old," said Linda W. Weiss, administrator of Stratton VA. "The average age has now dropped radically to 40, with our fastest growing group between 20 and 30, women who are in their childbearing age."

As she spoke, Weiss turned toward 27-year-old National Guardswoman Randelle McUmber, of Delaware County, who is nine months pregnant. The crowd of about 50 people clapped.

Several elected officials attended the event including Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, Congressman Chris Gibson, both veterans, and Congressman Paul Tonko.

"The VA is not perfect," Gibson said. "But they are always trying to get better."

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