Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of H.R. 1211, the Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, as amended, which the Veterans' Affairs Health Subcommittee passed on June 4 and the full committee approved on June 10.
I would like to thank Chairman Filner, Ranking Member Buyer, Subcommittee Chairman Mike Michaud and Subcommittee Ranking Member Brown for their leadership and support of this bill, as well as my colleague on the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, the distinguished ranking member, Mr. Boozman of Arkansas, for cosponsoring this important legislation.
I would also like to take a moment to give special recognition to Chairman Filner for his leadership on this very important issue. He had mentioned the roundtable that the full committee hosted, his brainchild to bring all of the women who represent different veterans service organizations and women veterans themselves to speak to their experiences and to better inform and educate committee members about the extraordinary circumstances that they have faced time and time again as they have sought care in VA medical centers.
So I was extremely pleased to introduce this important legislation on February 26, 2009, proud of the bipartisan support the legislation has garnered. And the roundtable discussion hosted by Chairman Filner illustrated even further how imperative the passage of this bill is for our women veterans.
Before I discuss the bill in greater detail and the needs of women veterans, I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Disabled American Veterans for their continued leadership and the effort to address the needs of female veterans and their support for this important legislation.
I also want to thank Cathy Wiblemo and the rest of her team for the great work that they have done on the health subcommittee. Cathy and her staff did excellent work in assisting with this legislation and shepherding it through the legislative process.
Today women make up approximately 8 percent of veterans in the United States, and that percentage will continue to rise as more and more women answer the call to duty to serve their country. With an increasing number of women seeking access to care for a diverse range of medical conditions, the challenge of providing adequate health care services for women veterans is one that the VA must meet.
Unfortunately, services at VA facilities often fall short of properly providing for the health care needs of women. There is too much fragmentation of care and not enough clinicians with the correct training and experience.
Child care considerations aren't being met adequately for male or female veterans, and currently the VA does not cover care for the newborn child of an eligible veteran.
To answer these challenges and others, H.R. 1211 takes a number of important steps to help the VA provide the services and care that our women veterans need and sets the VA on a path toward providing even better care in the future.
H.R. 1211 authorizes the VA to conduct two important studies. First the VA will examine barriers to health care that women veterans experience within the VA system. The study will examine the full range of barriers, including the lack of comprehensive primary care, the sensitivity of VA providers regarding gender-specific issues, the stigma of seeking mental health care services, and the availability of child care.
The second study is a comprehensive assessment of the VA's women's health program, with the task of developing a strategy to improve services at every VA medical center. The bill also works to enhance the VA's sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder programs for women by requiring the secretary of the VA to ensure that all mental health professionals have been properly and consistently trained to help women veterans.
Female veterans who have suffered such attacks have already suffered enough. They need to know before they begin treatment that every VA mental health professional is prepared to help them, understands the best methods and practices, and can make them feel secure in seeking treatment.
Child care concerns also have emerged as a crucial issue for women veterans seeking care. Sometimes veterans without access to appropriate child care are forced to forego important health care appointments.
H.R. 1211 begins to address this issue by authorizing a child care pilot program for patients and requires the VA to carry out this study in at least three veterans service networks. Possible forms of child care assistance include stipends for child care centers, the development of partnerships with private agencies and collaboration with other Federal agencies that have similar programs.
H.R. 1211 also requires the VA to provide 7 days of medical care for the newborn children of women veterans. Currently the VA has no provision to provide care for these infants. However, 86 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom women veterans are under the age of 40, and this benefit represents an important update of VA policy.
Finally, the bill requires the VA to add recently separated women and minority veterans to serve on key advisory committees, such as the advisory committee on women veterans. The VA must ensure adequate attention is given to women veterans programs so quality health care and specialized services are available for both women and men.
I believe my bill will help the VA better meet these specialized needs and develop new systems to better provide for the health care of women veterans, especially those who are sexually assaulted, suffer from PTSD or who need child care services. Congress must honor our Nation's commitment to all of our veterans, and this legislation furthers that aim.
Again, I want to thank Chairman Filner for his outstanding leadership on this issue, and I urge all of my colleagues to support H.R. 1211.