Saturday, April 13, 2024

At Veterans Affairs Committee Hearing on Women Veterans Health Care, Murray Raises Importance of Mammography Services for WA State Veterans, IVF Care


At Veterans Affairs Committee Hearing on Women Veterans Health Care, Murray Raises Importance of Mammography Services for WA State Veterans, IVF Care

ICYMI: Senator Murray Meets with Women Veterans in Seattle, Discusses Efforts to Secure Strong Investments in Women Veterans’ Health Care

As Appropriations Chair, Murray secured a record $990 million for women veterans’ health care at VA this year

Women are the fastest growing demographic within the veteran population; Puget Sound VA in Washington State saw a 7 percent increase in women veterans utilizing their services over the past two years

***VIDEO of Senator Murray’s Q&A HERE***

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member and former Chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, attended a Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on “Ensuring Equity for Women Veterans at VA” to examine whether VA is providing adequate resources and care for women veterans. Witnesses at the hearing included Dr. Erica Scavella, the Assistant Under Secretary for Health for Clinical Services at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) at VA, and Dr. Sally Haskell, Acting Chief Officer at the VHA’s Office of Women’s Health.

The hearing comes after Murray secured a record $990 million—a $150 million boost—for gender-specific health care services and improvements to help women veterans in the VA Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2024, which was signed into law last month. In February, Murray hosted a roundtable discussion with women veterans in Seattle and heard directly from them about the challenges they face in getting health care through VA.

In her Q&A, Murray asked Dr. Scavella about issues including the lack of in-house mammography services in Veterans Integrated Services Network (VISN) 20—which covers Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska—and steps VA can take to further expand access to IVF care.

“We all know that women are the fastest-growing demographic within the veteran population. In my home state of Washington, the Puget Sound VA saw a 7 percent increase in women veterans who are utilizing their services over the past two years.

“In February, I met with women veterans in Seattle who told me about barriers that they have faced in receiving health care through the VA. I heard a story from a veteran who was looking for care at American Lake VA, which was very close to where she lived, but the women’s clinic was completely full. So, she had to go to the Seattle VA to get care—close but not close—and I know that a lot of other women veterans are facing the same stories. Her story is not unique, I hear that all the time—many women are having trouble getting the care they need.

“And additionally, mammography services are an important part of health care for women veterans—but right now VISN 20… is the only VISN without in-house mammography. And that is really not acceptable.

“Dr. Scavella—does VA have plans to expand their in-house mammography services to VISN 20?”

Dr. Scavella spoke about challenges VA faces in finding qualified employees who are adequately trained to mammography services. Dr. Haskell added that VA currently has in-house mammography at 78 sites—with those services “increasingly very rapidly”—and that VA is looking at additional ways of providing mammography through teleradiology as well as potentially looking into more mobile mammography services.

“We are limited in that we want our mammography programs to be very high-quality care, and in order to do that, we need to ensure that there are a certain number of women at a facility—there are requirements both for the radiology technologists and the radiologists themselves that they need to do a certain number of cases per year in order to be qualified and certified… I do want to say we are very aware of that VISN 20 gap and I know that the radiology program is looking at it very carefully,” Dr. Haskell said. Murray asked Dr. Haskell to look into the gap further and follow up on when VISN 20 could begin to provide mammography services.

Murray also asked Dr. Scavella about VA’s recent announcement that it will expand its IVF services to single and unmarried servicemembers and will allow servicemembers to utilize donor gametes. “This is really great news for active-duty servicemembers and veterans, and I know we have a lot of work to be done to make sure everyone has the access they need—which is exactly why I introduced the Veteran Families Health Services Act which will expand IVF services to more servicemembers and their families. And I’ll be working very hard to get that passed,” Murray said, referencing her legislation that would expand IVF care to all veterans and servicemembers who are unable to conceive without assistance.

Murray asked Dr. Scavella to speak to how VA’s recent expansion in IVF services will help more women veterans and why IVF care is so crucial for veterans who cannot conceive naturally. “I will just say that, when we ask our men and women to serve our country, we tell them we will take care of them when they go home. To tell them that doesn’t include having a family, to me, is outrageous,” Murray concluded. “So I think this is really important, and I appreciate the work you are doing on it and we will continue to do everything we can to make sure we get this done for families.”

Senator Murray was the first woman to join the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the first woman to chair the Committee—as the daughter of a WWII veteran, supporting veterans and their families has always been an important priority for Murray.

Advocating for women veterans in particular has been a longtime focus for Senator Murray, as Chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee in 2010, Senator Murray passed her landmark Women Veterans Health Improvement Act into law. Murray has worked to permanently authorize the VA child care pilot program to increase access to free, quality child care for veterans during their appointments, make much-needed improvements to the women veterans call center, and fix a loophole that left veterans footing the bill for medically-necessary emergency newborn transportation that VA should be covering. Murray introduced and helped pass the Deborah Sampson Act, legislation to address gender disparities at VA that established a dedicated Office of Women’s Health at VA and required every VA health facility to have a dedicated women’s health primary care provider, among other things. Murray also helped to pass the MAMMO Act to expand access to high-quality breast cancer screening and treatment services for veterans.

In September, Murray reintroduced her Veteran Families Health Services Act, comprehensive legislation that would expand fertility treatments and family-building services for servicemembers and veterans who are unable to conceive without assistance. Murray sought unanimous consent to pass the legislation last month but was blocked by Senate Republicans. Also last month, Murray led a bipartisan letter urging VA to remove barriers for women veterans seeking support for military sexual trauma, noting that many existing VA resources are underutilized.

During her time as Chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senator Murray oversaw the initial implementation of the Caregiver Support Program in 2011, fought successfully to pass legislation to greatly expand the program and has been closely following its implementation since then.