Most people learned about the birds and the bees by about the sixth grade, but some legislators say the lesson is lost on a federal government that treats female veterans as though their health care needs are the same as their male counterparts.
As a Veterans Affairs scandal plays out nationwide, a local lawmaker is among a group that wants to form a task force to study the health care issues unique to women veterans. While soldier health care is the purview of the federal government, Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, said the state Legislature could work with national legislators to further the findings of the study.
Schreiber plans to introduce a resolution — a counterpart to a Senate resolution — to create a group and issue a report by Nov. 30 on quality and access to health care.
The legislation was one of several initiatives unveiled Tuesday at the Capitol by the legislature's bipartisan Women's Health Caucus. The group announced its first phase of legislation last year, with Tuesday's attention locked on seven new measures that caucus co-chairman Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, said focus on the goal of putting women's concerns before politics.
Citing Pennsylvania's unsuccessful mandatory ultrasound bill, Frankel said health care providers shouldn't be forced into their mode of treatment and nor should women be forced into treatment because of politicians' ideology.
Military women: A Windsor Township veterans advocate who works for the American Legion in Washington, D.C., said the VA's need for a culture change extends to women's issues.
"This is an area where the VA needs to recognize who their customers are," said Zack Hearn, a veteran and the Legion's Deputy Director for Claims. "This isn't the 1960s Army."
Hearn said one of his directors recently spent time in a VA hospital, and the basket of hygiene items she received at check-in demonstrates the VA's oversight. While men receive razors and other essentials in the baskets, the female version of the basket failed to include essential monthly hygiene items, he said.
"The military has been an all-male or mostly male for so long," Hearn said. "The Department of Defense is having more women serve but the VA hasn't really responded to the increase in women in the military."
As a result, many women need to go outside the VA to find a provider for routine health procedures such as mammograms, he said.
"I'm pretty confident I won't have to go outside to get a prostate exam," he said.
Privacy can also be an issue, and some women have taken issue with VA hospitals performing gynecological exams in the same area of a hospital where other less intimate procedures were being performed, he said.
Local lawmaker: Schreiber said there are 80,000 female veterans in Pennsylvania, and the number of women serving nationwide is at a historic high. It's disappointing that Pennsylvania is still dealing with issues as fundamental as respecting a woman's health, he said.
"There was a time in our history where we didn't recognize post-traumatic stress disorder," he said. "We need to be dedicated to understanding there are differences between men and women."
Other bills unveiled Tuesday include a bill to protect the patient-provider relationship by barring "inappropriate, unscientific legislative intrusion" from bills such as the ultrasound legislation, a bill to increase financial assistance for needy families, and a bill to extend sexual harassment laws to employers who have fewer than the current statutory limit of four employees.
— Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.