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The committee is currently exploring the concept of a holistic approach to mental health treatment at VA, incorporating incentives, family support counseling, and education and employment benefits customized to each veteran’s needs.

“On one hand, we have a medical system that boasts of evidence-based therapies, improved access and high quality of care. On the other, we have data from VA indicating that veterans with mental illness only get progressively worse. There is something very wrong with this situation,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. “We need to move beyond numbers that simply tell us how many veterans use the system and get at the fundamental question of whether they are on a road to leading full, productive lives.”

• Another significant issue for the VA is its major initiative to reach out to women veterans in order to solicit their input on ways to enhance the health care services.

“We are taking a proactive approach to enhancing VA health care for women veterans,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said. “We are seeking the input of women veterans so that VA can continue to provide high quality health care to the growing numbers of women veterans.”

Representatives at VA’s Health Resource Center (HRC) are placing calls to women veterans nationwide, asking them to share their experiences with VA and suggest potential enhancements that will further VA’s mission to provide the best care anywhere.

Women veterans are one of the fastest-growing segments of the veteran population. Of the 22.7 million living veterans, more than 1.8 million are women. They comprise nearly 8 percent of the total veteran population and 6 percent of all veterans who use VA health care services.

VA estimates by 2020 women veterans will constitute 10 percent of the veteran population and 9.5 percent of VA patients. The HRC, which started placing calls on June 1, is contacting women veterans who have enrolled, but have not begun using VA services.

“Through this contact center, we are placing friendly, conversational calls to women veterans,” said Patricia Hayes, chief consultant of the VA’s Women Veterans Health Strategic Health Care Group. “We want these veterans and their caregivers to talk candidly about why they are not using VA, whether they are aware of the gender-specific services we offer, and what additional services they would like to see VA offer.”

The HRC representatives making the calls are also informing women veterans about the services VA offers and quickly connecting them with appropriate departments if they are interested in trying VA health care. Veterans who have complaints about VA are connected to a patient advocate who helps resolve issues.

For more information about VA programs and services for women Veterans, please visit: www.va.gov/womenvet and www.publichealth.va.gov/womenshealth.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email sgtshaft@bavf.org.