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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Female Veterans Kicked To The Curb & Homeless

How We're Failing Our Female Veterans

June Moss, 39, maneuvered a Humvee around charred corpses and still smoking shrapnel in Iraq in 2003. The Army driver and mechanic once watched a Black Hawk helicopter mow down insurgents a few hundred yards away. But when she called her father to tell him how tough things were, he didn't get it. "He was kind of like, 'Oh, well, you just fix the trucks.

You don't have to worry about nothing,' " she recalls. "I don't know where people get the idea that women aren't out there, they don't see anything, they're just support."

At home, after she was discharged from the military but before she was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the single mother couldn't find a job that paid enough to support her and two children.

In 2005 her house went into foreclosure, and the next year she and her kids became homeless — a predicament made more painful by the fact that of the nearly 500 community homeless shelters funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), only seven provide accommodations specifically for families. That year, Moss tried to kill herself.

Some of female veterans' health care needs — pap smears, mammograms, etc. — are more obvious than others. Treatment for mental-health issues, autoimmune disorders and even high cholesterol can be hampered by a doctor who is not accustomed to female patients.

To increase clinical staff's proficiency in women's health, the VA has trained more than 400 health care providers in the past two years through mini-residencies featuring 2½ days of presentations from women's-health experts. Last year the VA finished installing a full-time women's veteran program manager at each of its 144 hospitals.

The VA is also starting to ramp up women-only treatment centers like the one Moss frequents in Menlo Park, Calif., and to add all-female therapy groups, especially for sexual-assault survivors.

A bill spearheaded by Washington Senator Patty Murray — and signed into law in May — goes even further, authorizing, among other things, a report to Congress on the effects the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on female veterans' physical, mental and reproductive health. "Women veterans have earned their stripes. They have earned their benefits," says Murray. "They shouldn't have to feel like they're asking for a handout."

In July the VA will hold a forum at Arlington National Cemetery to discuss the quality of care for female veterans and ways to improve access. For now, too few women have figured out how to navigate the byzantine system.

Moss is one of them. She works in chaplain services at a VA hospital near the clinic where she sees a therapist once a week. She says she no longer feels, as she did when she first got home from Iraq, "like a shell of a person." She hugs her kids again. She enjoys what she calls "me time" at the hairdresser.

She's even getting married in August, to a former Marine who, as she puts it, "understands PTSD." "It's not just being brave on the battlefield," she says of being a veteran. "You have to be brave in civilian life too."

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Sources: CBS News, TIME, Youtube, Google Maps

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