New Study for Women Vietnam-era Vets, too late but better late than never

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ORD-logo On Nov. 18, 2009, Sec. of the VA, Eric Shinseki announced the VA would launch a comprehensive study of Vietnam-era women Veterans. The VA CSP No. 579 Health ViEWS study is looking for women who were stationed in Vietnam and surrounding countries and were exposed to trauma, either direct trauma or indirect trauma. It’s a giant step for the VA, who for years omitted women from VA research. In 1982, VA conducted an internal report (Women Veterans Usage of VA hospitalization) on the women veteran population and its usage of the VHA. The report was shocking: “The lack of data on women veterans precludes any attempt to clarify specific future requirements in terms of services and suggests the need for an examination of patterns of the use in the population which is to be served. Such information cannot be obtained from those sources currently available within the VA.” In fact, VA did not make a cognizant effort to focus on women veteran’s research until many years later. And, as this study proves, it continues to do so. According to the VA’s Website, the Health ViEWS Study will assess the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other mental and physical health conditions and disability for women Vietnam-era veterans, and explore the relationship between PTSD and other conditions and the Vietnam deployment experience (Women identified as serving in Vietnam, near Vietnam (in Asia during the Vietnam War), and in the U.S. during the Vietnam War). Approximately 10,000 women will be asked to participate in this study. As women Vietnam Era veterans approach their mid-sixties, the VA believes it is important to understand the impact of wartime deployment on health and mental outcomes nearly 40 years later. While I applaud the VA for taking such a big step for our Vietnam veterans who happen to be women, I keep asking myself, why did they have to wait until these women were in their mid-sixties? It is important to know how mental conditions affect a woman’s health as she ages, but why start with a group of women already in their mid-sixties? Have we missed a key part of the equation by not seeing how it affected them throughout their 30s, 40s, and 50s? Granted, there have been other studies of Vietnam women veterans, but none that I found which look at the affects on aging. I argue that by your mid-sixties many age-related ailments may have already started to set in. Still, it is a double-sided coin. Some information about how PTSD and other conditions affect women as they age is better than no information. And the information gained will only help these women as they continue to age, not to mention future women veterans. Just as these women broke down barriers in the Department of Defense in the 1960s and 1970s just by serving, we must ask them to help provide information for the VA to help future women veterans. Women veterans stand stronger in numbers – we are the smallest minority in the VA – but we are also the fastest growing population. If women show up for this study, it may prod VA to do similar studies on younger veterans. In a perfect world, I would love to see the VA follow a cohort of young woman veterans throughout their lives – not just focusing on PTSD and mental conditions – but chronic conditions and woman’s health issues. But we have to start somewhere. So with that … I would encourage my wiser (I won’t say older) sisters to volunteer for this study. Show up in droves so the VA has to turn some of you away. If you are one of my brothers and know a woman veteran who meets the guidelines of the study, forward the information below and encourage them to participate. Strength in numbers, one study at a time, we will gain equality, both in our healthcare and in VA-funded research. Info: Who can participate: Women who served in Vietnam or surrounding countries from July 4, 1965 to March 28, 1973 Level of participation: The VA will contact approximately 10,000 women who served in the United States Military during the Vietnam-era for participation in mailed survey, telephone interview, and a review of medical records. Who to contact: The VA Cooperative Studies Program Coordinating Center in Perry Point, Maryland, may be contacted for further information: Cooperative Studies Program (151E) P.O. Box 1010 Perry Point, MD 21902 410-642-2411 ext 6122 Website: Info on how to participate: 1-888-831-3325
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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.