Women's Health newsletter - December 2022
We’d like to welcome you to our newsletter created especially for our female Veterans. The VA Women’s Health program strives to meet your diverse and special needs. We offer women’s health specialty clinics, timely health care, outreach programs and events. We are inspired to serve you every day as part of our mission. We honor you as a diverse, brave and resilient community of female Veterans.
What is the PACT Act?
The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 is a new law that expands VA health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. This law helps us provide generations of Veterans — and their survivors — with the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.
The PACT Act:
- Expands and extends eligibility for VA healthcare for Veterans with toxic exposures and Veterans of the Vietnam era, Gulf War era, and Post-9/11 era, and
- Expands eligibility for benefits for Veterans exposed to toxic substances.
Do you want to improve your health and well-being? Then Whole Health is for you. Whole Health empowers and equips Veterans to take charge of their health and well-being. It uses a Veteran-driven approach to health care. It puts you, not your diagnoses or disease, at the center of your health care. Whole Health explores the 8 areas of well-being. These are Moving the body, Surroundings, Personal Development, Food & Drink, Recharge, Relationships, Spirit & Soul, and Power of the Mind. Pump up your Whole Health with Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, Skill- Building, and Pathway groups. Start living your best life!
For questions or to sign-up, contact 414-384-2000, ext. 43611.
Women Only groups:
Women Only – Taking Charge of My Life and Health (9-week group)
Discover new skills to better manage your health while focusing on what’s important in your life.
Women Only – Group or Individual Health Coaching (8 weeks).
Develop a personal health plan based on what matters most to you. Health coaches support you to achieve your goals based on your preferences and lifestyle.
Heart Health Month -- February
This February is heart health month. Heart health is crucial for women Veterans for a few reasons. Women Veterans are more likely than non-Veteran women to get heart disease. Even young Women Veterans face higher cardiovascular risk than civilian women the same age. Past stress from military service, PTSD and depression puts strain on the heart health. And many women Veterans exercise less after versus during their service.
Another factor that makes heart disease more likely in women is race and ethnicity. Black women Veterans have higher rates of heart disease. They also have more risk factors than their white and Hispanic peers. Risk factors include diabetes, obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure.
As a result, women Veterans should focus more on their heart health. How? Talk to your provider. Get on a heart health plan with realistic and achievable goals.
Besides comprehensive primary care and women’s health services, the VA offers:
- VHA Women’s Heart Health Resources: Get info and resources on heart disease risk factors/ symptoms. Learn steps to lower your risks.
- Home Telehealth for a Healthy Heart, Mind and Body: Talk to your Primary Care Provider if interested or call ext. 47186 for more info.
- VA Tobacco Cessation Resources: Resources to help Veterans quit tobacco use and support heart health.
- VA Mindfulness Coach App: Mindfulness helps reduce stress, a major risk factor for heart disease. Practice techniques to manage your stress levels with The Mindfulness Coach.
- MOVE! Weight Management Program: Being active and keeping a healthy weight lowers your heart disease risk. Manage your weight with the MOVE! program. Get resources on healthy eating, physical activity and exercise, and weight loss.
Women’s Integrative Sexual Health Clinic (WISH)
Many women suffer in silence with sexual dysfunction. Luckily, women Veterans can get help through the VA’s WISH clinic. WISH providers assess and treat women’s sexual health issues such as low libido, pelvic pain, post-menopause issues, cancer survivorship and trauma. The clinic uses a team approach with a medical doctor, psychologist, and pelvic floor physical therapist. See your primary care provider for a referral to WISH.
The Best Contraception for You
The Milwaukee VA is proud to give women Veterans a full range of birth control. We offer the traditional pill and long-term options like IUDs and sterilization procedures. Our birth control has expanded to new pill brands and Depo Provera, an at-home, injectable birth control. And you can now get a whole years’ worth of birth control pills at one time. You won’t have to refill your pills as often!
The VA now has emergency contraception, also called the “morning after pill.” The two options are called Plan B and Ella. Emergency contraception is a backup birth control used after any episode of sex that occurred without birth control. You can use it when you forgot a condom, forget your pills, or with unintended sex. The most important thing when using Plan B and Ella is to take it as soon as possible. Talk to your VA provider to get a supply of emergency contraception and be prepared.
Your VA women’s health provider is happy to talk more about what birth control option is best for you.
Questions you may want to think about before meeting with your provider include:
- What birth control options have you used in the past?
- What did you like about those and what did you not like?
- Do you want to have any children? If so, when might you want to have a child?
- How do you feel about taking a daily pill?
- What do you think about using an IUD or implant?
- Are you bothered by your periods?
The provider may ask you other health questions to see what birth control option is best. Whether you want to have a child now, in the future, or never, our full range clinic is here for you.
The VA is committed to providing first-class reproductive health care and contraceptives to suit your needs. Our gynecology service counsels patients on options such as IUD placement and long-acting contraception implants. Our board-certified gynecologists offer outpatient permanent sterilization surgery for patients who do not wish to bear children or who’s families are complete. They have fertility help for patients with problems conceiving, and medications to assist with your goals. Talk with your primary care provider for a gynecology referral. As always, it is our honor to serve you.
Intimate Partner Violence
VA Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Program (IPVAP) supports healthy relationships.
Healthy relationship behaviors include respect, support, and honesty. Each person feels they can trust the other because each respects the other’s boundaries and they practice effective, open communication. Responsibilities are divided, and decisions are shared. Each person has their own healthy identity and takes care of themselves. Each person has a good support network outside of the relationship.
Unhealthy relationship behaviors include: disrespect, inconsistent support, and dishonesty. Concerns in the relationship are ignored or may turn into unresolved arguments. Boundaries and shared decision making are not respected. One person tries to control or pressure the other. High-risk relationship behaviors are signs of serious intimate partner violence and place the person at high risk of harm. These behaviors are meant to hurt, demean, control and/or isolate. One person tries to make the other feel afraid, feel bad about themselves and their abilities, or feel that they are not free to make their own choices.
The VA cares about people affected by Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Veterans, their partners and VA staff affected by relationship violence can talk with your IPVAP coordinator about available resources and service.
414-384-2000, ext. 43874
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Veterans Crisis Line
988 (then press 1)
Convenient Pharmacy Refill Information
- Call 1-888-469-6614 and press 1 (need full Social Security number and Rx #)
- Press 3 to speak to a pharmacy employee
- Detach and send your refill slips to the return address on your prescription label.
Get the app; Download from the App Store or Google Play
Need to know
- Certain maintenance medication refills will only be sent through mail.
- Request refills at least 14 days before running out of medication to avoid delays.
- Medication refills are NOT sent automatically.
- Please call us with any questions or concerns or to update your mailing information.
Women’s Voices Matter
Your feedback is vital to improve the VA Women’s Health Program now and in the future. We offer two ways for you to share your ideas and opinions. First is our focus group, held every 3rd month via Teams. Send any topic ideas to the Women’s Veteran Program Manager. Second, is our Women’s only virtual Town Hall. An email invite is sent with the online meeting link after you sign up.
2023 Women’s Only Town Halls:
- Wednesday, March 8
- Wednesday, Sept. 13
Email to be added to our notification list: IAMAFEMALEVETERAN@va.gov
Stay in touch with the latest news! Download the VA Video Connect app.
My HealtheVet is a secure, online site that allows premium account holders 24-hour access to their VA health records and more.
Premium Accounts benefits:
- . Refill, track, and view medications
- . Schedule/track medical appointments
- . Contact health care team(s) or other VA staff for non-emergency needs
- . View, print, or download VA medical health information
- . Get health and wellness resources
Primary Care offers online VA Video Connect (VVC) and phone visits. Meet with your provider from your own home using a smart phone, computer, or tablet.
Premium account holders can use their My HealtheVet User ID/Password to log in and request travel pay through the Beneficiary Travel Self Service System (BTSSS) website: access.va.gov.
*Please note: Although the same User ID/Password is used to log into both sites, My HealtheVet and BTSSS are two separate websites not affiliated with each other. For travel claim or BTSSS website assistance, contact Beneficiary Travel at 414-384-2000, ext. 42056.
For help upgrading from a basic to premium account, or have My HealtheVet questions, contact:
Shannon Niemi, My HealtheVet Coordinator, or
Jennifer Penoske, My HealtheVet Program Support Assistant
414-384-2000, ext. 42141
Friday, Aug. 5, marked the second bi-annual baby shower hosted for female Veterans at Milwaukee VA. Forty-five moms-to-be who receive VA care came to the in-person event. Lake Wheeler Pavilion was decorated with cute, furry animals to the theme “Adventure awaits."
Each expectant mom took home over $700 worth of gifts. They also won gifts playing fun games like “What’s in Your Purse” and “Guess the Number of Peanuts”. Refreshments were served, and moms were able to get their pictures taken in front of the fun photo backdrop.
A special thanks to all those organizations and donors whose support made this baby shower possible.
- American Legion Auxiliary – Department of Wisconsin
- American Legion Auxiliary – Unit 189 Watertown
- American Legion Auxiliary – Unit 282 Fond Du Lac
- Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary
- American red Cross Wisconsin
- Friendly Quilters of Franklin
- WI Society U.S. Daughters 1812
- AMVETS – Department of Wisconsin
- AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary – Unit #0
- Knights of Columbus – Zablocki
- Disabled American Veterans – Post 135
- American Legion Auxiliary – Unit 522
- Daughters of the American Revolution – Milwaukee Chapter
Substance Use Help
Substance Use Disorder (SUD) affects people that can’t manage alcohol and drugs. This includes prescription drugs and other substance. SUD gets worse with anxiety, depression or stress. It can cause problems at home and work and lead to long-term health concerns.
Who is affected?
Anyone can be affected. SUD is more common in younger Veterans and Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. More women Veterans are seeking treatment for SUD, half of which were for alcohol use. Service-related chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or military sexual trauma (MST) can lead to SUD in Women Veterans.
What can you do?
If you worry about your drinking or drug use, the VA has help. Talk to your primary care provider about what you’re going through. They’ll help you find the right treatment or program based on your situation. Tell your provider if you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding to best determine your treatment options. Telling your provider about your SUD problem will NEVER affect your eligibility. If you want to quit or cut back on drug or alcohol use, focus on your reasons. This is the “why” or “whys”. Focus on what you gain, not what you lose. For instance, you might want to be there for kids or grandkids, or get back to doing the things you love. Cutting down could make you feel good about yourself. Or you may want to live a better life.
There’s help for you
VA offers several treatment options to fit your situation and preference. Learning skills and strategies to address urges and cravings can reduce your substance use.
SUD Programs and services that can help:
- Substance use screening (can be done at a primary care visit)
- Medications: Highly effective medications are available for SUD disorders such as alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder.
- Therapy: Evidence-based therapies are among the best treatments for SUD. Examples are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET). VA offers marriage and family counseling; outpatient or residential care therapies in varied settings.
- Working with peer specialists: A peer specialist is a Veteran hired and trained to help other Veterans in recovery. They are in recovery from a mental health condition themselves. They work with you on recovery plans and in personal goal setting. Peers connect you with VA and local resources and support positive roles and activities.
- Opioid overdose prevention: Learn more about how to stop overdose. VA offers education to prevent opioid overdose for Veterans. At-risk Veterans can get free access to naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdose.
- Telehealth care is offered if you don’t live close to a VA or prefer to see a mental health provider over the phone or computer. Speak to your VA provider or send your health care team a secure message on My HealtheVet to set up a phone or video visit.
- Trauma-Informed Care: Care by trained providers who treat Veterans with both SUDs and past trauma. Their trauma can be service or non-service related. Veterans with a history of trauma may have PTSD or MST along with SUD. As a result, the VA specializes in this type of care.
Let us know your thoughts
Do you have a question or want more information on specific topics? Whether you want to know about certain diets, VA benefits, or ways to improve your health, the Women’s Health Care Team is here for you. Just submit your question to Katie.Wisniewski@va.gov
I Am Not Invisible Photo Shoot
Women's Health Newsletter - June 2022
Inspired by you
We asked several of our team members the question, “What inspires you most about our Women Veterans?” Their responses could not be more supportive:
“I’m inspired by their strength and resilience. They encourage me to be strong in the face of adversity…to keep pushing forward.”
“They are hardworking, strong, courageous, and selfless.”
“What inspires me is their ability to do it all. To stand next to men and do the same job.”
“I enjoy their take-charge enthusiasm for their health care.”
They are "2tronger than the average woman.”
“They had the courage to fight for their country and what they believe in.”
“Women are now valued as much as our male Veterans. They go through the same training and can now hold higher job positions. Some experience sexual trauma and soldier on with their heads held high.”
“Women Veterans show the same bravery and strength as men. Amazing!”
“Although having experienced trauma, they still come here with a positive attitude.”
They have "strength and courage. ... They are our heroes.”
“Hearing about their experiences inspires me to be my best self. This motivates me to continue working hard for our women Veterans.”
Our Milwaukee VA Women's Health team, from left, Santos Olmo, Ericka Johnson, Jessica Klink, Kathryn Dilkey, Katie Wisniewski and Erin Rourke. Not pictured: Christina Helms
New Women’s Health coordination team
We are your new health coordination team. Our focus is a seamless transition from your in-house care to community services. The team works with providers to address all aspects of your care. This includes patient education, chart updates, appointments and follow-ups on abnormal test results.
We help you navigate a sometimes complex medical system. From mammograms to maternity care coordination, our goal is safe, high-quality and effective health care.
Our comprehensive gynecology clinic offers help for a wide range of health issues:
- Abnormal uterine bleeding
- Pelvic pain
- Gynecologic cancers
- Menopausal support (hormone replacement therapy)
- In-house infertility care
- Follow-up for abnormal cervical cancer screenings
- Referrals to community infertility specialists for further testing and treatment if needed
Veterans interested in gynecology services should contact their VA care provider.
Pelvic Health Physical Therapy
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that create a sling at the base of the pelvis. These muscles stabilize your pelvis, control bowel and bladder movements, enhance sexual function and support your pelvic organs.
More than half of us will have pelvic health issues in our lifetime. The pelvic floor may be weak or stretched. The muscles may be tight, tense or function poorly. Any of these issues can cause pelvic floor dysfunction.
- Pelvic pain.
- Urinary or fecal leaking.
- A strong and sudden urge to go to the bathroom.
- A difficult time urinating or passing a bowel movement.
- Pain or difficulty during sex.
The good news is physical therapy can help!
The Milwaukee and Green Bay VA have specially trained pelvic health physical therapists to treat you. The physical therapist can:
- Assess your low back, pelvis, and hips.
- Test how key muscles work together with your pelvic floor muscles.
- Provide an internal and/or external pelvic floor exam.
- Provide hands-on techniques and/or customized exercises.
- Educate you on healthy bladder and bowel habits.
Discuss any symptoms you may have with your doctor. Be sure to ask for a consultation for pelvic health physical therapy.
Women’s Health Primary Care Services
Women’s Health Primary Care (PACT Team) allows you to see multiple health care providers in one visit. A provider, registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, medical service assistant, pharmacist, dietician, social worker and mental health professional manage your health care. Primary Care serves Milwaukee, Green Bay, Union Grove, Cleveland and Appleton.
Primary Care includes general medical care and preventive care.
General medical care treats urgent illnesses and chronic conditions.
- Urgent: flu, colds, and infections.
- Chronic conditions: chronic pain, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Preventive care includes early measures to prevent disease or conditions. Examples:
- Pap smears.
- Birth control.
- Family planning/counseling.
- Menopause care.
- Osteoporosis screening/care.
Primary Care offers online VA Video Connect (VVC) and phone visits. Interact with your provider from your own home using a smartphone, computer or tablet.
We know these exams can be difficult for you. We will make you as comfortable as possible. Our team can get you the care you need if not available onsite.
Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Clinic
My name is Dr. Amy Farkas, and I run our breast cancer risk assessment clinic at the Milwaukee VA. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. The good news is we have great treatments. Women diagnosed with early breast cancer have excellent survival and cure rates. You can take steps to reduce your risk of breast cancer in several ways:
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
We know that being overweight or obese increases risk for breast cancer.
We also know that exercise can help to reduce breast cancer risk.
Reduce Alcohol Intake
Even one glass of alcohol a day has been shown to increase a woman’s risk.
Regular Breast Cancer Screening and Testing
Screenings help detect early-stage disease when it is more easily treated:
- Age 40-44: Option to start screening with a mammogram every year.
- Age 45-54: Annual mammograms recommended.
- Age 55-plus: Switch to a screening every other year, or choose to continue yearly mammograms. Screenings should continue if a woman is in good health and is expected to live at least 10 more years.
Mammogram screenings are very important. The VA does not offer on-site mammograms, but they are covered by your VA benefits. Talk to your doctor about a testing schedule that’s right for you. Community Care can help set up an appointment at a facility near you!
Questions? Contact our mammogram coordinator at 414-384-2000, ext. 45004
Your VA now has a Maternity Care Coordinator to guide you through your maternity care. Services cover conception to postpartum, and community care.
VA maternity services include:
- Routine prenatal tests/assessments.
- Prenatal office visits, ultrasounds, labs and other testing.
- Prosthetics if needed (pressure stockings, belly belts).
- Breast feeding support, to include a breast pump, nursing bras, nipple cream, nursing bra pads, milk storage bags and a lactation consult if needed.
- Pregnancy-related education (birthing/infant care classes and individual services based on your needs).
Contact your VA primary care provider or the maternity care coordinator for more information: 414-384-2000, ext. 46365
New Pregnancy Education Group
VA offers a new, four-session group for pregnant women called Healthy Beginnings. It prepares you for the physical and emotional challenges of pregnancy and having a baby.
The sessions are led by a physical therapist and mental health professional who help you learn skills for this special time of life. This includes simple exercises and strategies to manage common symptoms of pregnancy.
You’ll learn proper body mechanics, labor and delivery positions and ways to aid recovery after delivery.
The program also includes mental and emotional support through the ROSE program. ROSE stands for Reach Out Stay Strong Essentials. It builds self-care and community care. It teaches communication and goal-setting skills. ROSE has been shown to reduce rates of postpartum depression.
Classes meet once a month online. Pregnant women can call the maternity care coordinator if interested.
Female Veteran Baby Shower
Women’s Health, in conjunction with Voluntary Service, will host its second Baby Shower for Female Veterans on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, from 2-3 p.m. at Lake Wheeler (weather permitting).
Our first baby shower was last year. The community came together and donated more than $27,000 in cash and baby items. The Milwaukee VA provided a huge tote filled with brand new gifts for new and expecting moms.
Staff loaded up the women with goodies as they drove through the checkpoint. The moms also received pictures at a photo booth and enjoyed sweet treats too. The event was a great success!
Moms not able to attend picked up their presents from staff later.
If you would like to participate, RSVP no later than Friday, July 1, to email@example.com.
Whole Health is a Veteran-driven approach that puts you at the center of your health care. The process empowers and equips you to take charge of your health and well-being. Whole Health uses eight areas of well-being:
- Moving the body
- Personal development
- Food and drink
- Spirit and soul
- Power of the mind
Are you looking to make a change in any of these areas? Then Whole Health programs are for you. Please join us any of our WH health and wellness groups such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, skill-building, pathway and
more to start living your best life!
For more information, contact 414-384-2000, ext. 43611.
Now offering Women Only groups
Women Only – Taking Charge of My Life and Health (nine-week group):
- Discover new skills to better manage your health while focusing on what’s important in your life.
Women Only – Group or Individual Health Coaching (eight weeks):
- Develop a personal health plan based on what matters most to you. Health coaches support you to achieve your goals based on your preferences and lifestyle.
Women’s Healthy Teaching Kitchen
The Healthy Teaching Kitchen (HTK) is a series of cooking classes that provides nutrition knowledge, cooking skills and guided practice. Its purpose is to build Veteran confidence in cooking healthy meals at home.
The Milwaukee VA offers two different series of HTK Classes. HTK Basics is open to all enrolled Veterans while Women’s Health HTK is for female Veterans only. Both series are held online with VA Video Connect (VVC). HTK supports hands-on practice as Veterans cook along with the instructor. Learn new cooking techniques or polish your old skills. Prepare and enjoy delicious, healthy recipes. Women Veterans who complete the full four-week series of Women HTK Classes can receive a Healthy Cooking Toolkit (while supplies last).
To enroll, contact:
414-384-2000, ext. 47387
My HealtheVet is an online site that allows you 24-hour access to your essential health and military records. Uploaded records can be safely and securely shared with providers, family members, or caregivers.
- Refill, track, and view your medications.
- Schedule/track medical appointments.
- Contact your health team or other VA staff for non-emergency needs.
- View, print, download or enter your own medical health information.
- Take a health assessment.
- Get health and wellness resources.
Intimate Partner Violence
The VA cares about Veterans affected by Intimate Partner Violence. Intimate Partner Violence is a public health problem that affects Veterans at a high rate. The VA Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Program (IPVAP) serves Veterans, family members and VA employees affected by Intimate Partner Violence.
IPVAP promotes relationship health and wellness. The program aids healing and growth for Veterans dealing with IPV. IPVAP aims to reduce conflict, support health, and improve health and quality of life. All of these are necessary for good physical and mental health.
We encourage Veterans, their partners, and VA staff to talk with their local IPVAP Coordinator for available resources and services. Together we can make a difference.
Please contact Andrea Knowlton, LCSW, for more information:
414-384-2000, ext. 43874
Your Opinion Matters
Partner with us to shape the Women’s Health program in the future. Join us for our focus group held every three months.
Your opinions, ideas and feelings matter. We value your feedback to help us improve the program to better meet your needs.
Email us to be placed on our list if you like future notifications: IAMAFEMALEVETERAN@va.gov.
Stay in touch with the latest news
Tell Us About Your Experience
VA provides quality health care to our national Veterans, and we are committed to Owning the Moment to make every encounter a positive patient experience! Your feedback is essential in helping your VA serve you better. You may receive a short survey from VA asking about your experience if you provided your email address.
Benefits of surveys:
- Submissions are “real-time” allowing us to see your feedback quickly.
- We are able to make things right if we did not meet your expectations.
- Patient feedback on employees improves morale and recognition opportunities.
You may receive surveys for your experience in the following areas:
- Outpatient Primary Care
- Outpatient Specialty Care Community Care
- Emergency Medical Care
- Telehealth Care
Have concerns about your experience? Our Milwaukee VA has a Patient Advocate Office that can help with:
- Hospital policy and procedure
- Recommendations for improvement