Female service members and veterans have been fighting for years for better healthcare and safety. Now, a recently passed bill is giving the fastest growing group within the veteran community some hope.
"There lacked privacy screens, there lacked locks on doors, things like that to make women veterans feel more comfortable when utilizing VA healthcare services," said Kaitlynne Hetrick, a veteran and the Associate of Government Affairs at IAVA.
Veterans like Hetrick and Jen Burch with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s organization say these are just some of the issues women have faced trying to receive care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"Since 9/11 there have been 345,000 women veterans and women seeking care at the VA has gone up by 80 percent," said Burch.
"What they’re doing is playing catch up and they don’t always know what women veterans need."
Both say women service members and veterans lack access to high-quality care and safety measures.
"We’ve all heard the tales of walking through the VA and being asked, ‘Is your husband coming with you?' Those kinds of questions. The tales of being berated as soon as you walk through the doors by your fellow veterans and those are just the beginning," said Hetrick.
"So it’s the whole concept of not feeling safe when you’re utilizing a service that you earned signing your name on the dotted line and being willing to fight for this country," Hetrick went on to say.
This has led many female vets to seek care elsewhere.
"I would love to use VA healthcare services, I mean I earned it." Hetrick said. "It’s my right so I would love to make sure these are implemented so that I can feel comfortable and every women veteran who wants to utilize VA can use it."
"It takes a team to get it there so it’s not just one person one VSO its all of us," Burch said.
The first step in that change is the Deborah Sampson Act which was recently signed into law.
It calls for a new Office of Women’s Health within the VA, more staff training, and efforts to eliminate sexual harassment and assault.
As for what’s next in their fight, IAVA is pushing the VA to change its motto to be more inclusive of all veterans, changing the phrase, "To care for him who shall have borne the battle," to say, "To care for they who shall have borne the battle."