There was a time in my military career when I was happily pregnant with my second child. Then came along an awful moment when I rushed to the ER at the base hospital due to a complication. I was then air-vac’d to a larger hospital with neonatal care. I spent 3 lonely weeks at that hospital in a room cooped up with three other pregnant women in an ante-partum room. We were so lonely, scared and frustrated. Our only source of outside family communications was relegated to a roll-around pay phone. Yes, it was literally a pay phone on a stand with four wheels that was moved from room to room depending upon the calls. It felt so archaic even in the mid 90’s.
Fast forward to one of my knee surgeries sometime in 2005 I think at a VA hospital where there was literally a sign on my door that said, “Caution – Female Patient in the Room”. I wondered if this somehow inferred that because I was a woman did I have the plague and to treat me differently than any other patient. I have that photo somewhere in my electronic photo album on a not often used computer but that image is still clear in my mind.
Then in a separate care visit to the VA, as I sat in the ER, I saw male patient after male patient pass me by, even those that came in after me. When I finally saw the Doctor, he inquired not so much about my complaint but more as to whether I felt like I was in danger at home or whether I was eating or not.
Yet there is a beautiful, warm, and inviting mammogram suite, which I have endured a visit a time or two. Not one of my favorite places to go but ya know, there are some things as you age that you have to endure so at least the VA has done something to make the environment pleasant.
A couple of months ago I visited the VA for another procedure and made light of the sign comment from my 2005 experience to an orderly while I was waiting in the OR pre-op room with about oh, 8 other men or so with all the pre-op fluttering going around. I asked, how are they addressing women now in the hospital in situations like this? He made a slight reply, “like this” and closed the curtains. He peeped his head back in and said that they were trying to be respectful yet knowing that some patients talk like, well you know, sailors and soldiers.”
Some of my recent experiences with Veteran organization are recognizing that there is a need for improvement at the VA. Of course, we all agree that there is a need and I don’t need to reiterate what has been in the news. What I am addressing here however is that things are changing over time. The changes are subtle and I want the VA to know that I, as a “female patient” appreciate those changes. The conversations are happening; things are subtly changing for sure. As we all know, change does not come overnight, but eventually it does change. I believe that with the growth of women veterans population that there are no other choices but to improve. In fact, I’ve seen that there are daycare rooms for women (and I presume dads too) where they can bring their children while the veteran is in a doctor’s appointment.
It seems like we are now on Veteran organizations agenda’s now too. I think it is crucial that women veteran issues are heard, resolutions determined and implemented. We are making up a larger portion of the Veteran population than ever before so if the organizations want our support (financially) then they need to be willing to address our issues too which are, as I may remind folks, are distinctly different then male issues and concerns. Hooray that women Veterans matter!
What I am saying about all of this is that while there is plenty in the news about some negative things going in the VA, I think that there is plenty good that has been going on with the likes of Allison Hickey and Dr. Carolyn Clancy at their respective helms to make progress for women Veterans on our behalf. On behalf of other women Veterans, thank you ladies for not forgetting or under-serving us.
Where there is progress in the VA front for women, there is progress for women in the Federal Workforce too. One step at a time….it is because there are situations like in this article which brings me to tears on why I write on the subjects that I write on. It is the reason why I work where I do in Public Housing at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. My story as you have probably been reading over the last few months, is not just my story alone but for those of thousands of other women (and likely men too) who may not use their voices but I have been learning how to use mine. I owe it to my sisters to speak up because I still have their back too. If given a situation on the other foot, I know they would have mine. It is time to step up and figure out a better women veterans strategy because what has been happening, is not only not working, it hasn’t been fair either. We stood up tall to defend our country too and we continue to stand proud!
Eva Fulton is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.
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