May is Women’s Health Month: VA Puget Sound offers comprehensive care to 17,500 women veterans
VA Puget Sound’s Women’s Health Program is the largest in the VA’s Northwest Health Network, with approximately 17,500 women enrolled for care.
A team of over 80 women’s health primary care providers offer comprehensive primary care at all of VA Puget Sound’s care sites across Western Washington. It offers gender choice of primary and mental health providers, and women Veterans may choose gender integrated care at all sites or receive primary care in its Women’s Clinics at American Lake and Seattle campuses, which have exclusive separate entrances and clinical spaces.
All services available to male veterans are also available for women veterans across primary, specialty, mental health, social work, nutrition, pharmacy, and emergent/inpatient care. Additionally, unique to its women Veterans, VA Puget Sound offers services attuned to the needs of women Veterans. These include in-house gynecology, full scope reproductive health services, care coordination to help navigate breast care, mammography, maternity services, fertility support and limited in vitro fertilization, or IVF, in the community.
Pregnancy is an important component of caring for women Veterans. As of September 2022, VA expanded the medical benefits package for veterans to include abortion counselling and abortion-related services through AR57 Interim Final Rule to protect the lives and health of veterans. “To continue or end a pregnancy is an important conversation between a patient and their clinical team, and we are equipped to navigate those waters with you,” said VA Puget Sound Women’s Health Medical Director Dr. Emily Ashbaugh.
For Veterans who choose to continue their pregnancy, the VA covers pregnancy care through arrangements with community providers. VA benefits include prenatal care, delivery, and postnatal care for eligible women Veterans. Additionally, VA Puget Sound offers prenatal classes, post-partum classes, supplies, lactation groups and individual lactation consultations, care for the newborn for the first seven days of life, and regular outreach for the full year following delivery.
“Our whole team, primary care provider, mental health, social work, pharmacy and nutrition are available to support you through your pregnancy in partnership with your OB provider,” said Dr. Ashbaugh. “And for veterans who choose to end their pregnancy, under the new ruling they may be eligible for VA abortion services in circumstances wherein the life or health of the Veteran would be endangered if the pregnancy continued, or in the case of rape or incest.
“Please reach out to us regarding any aspect of your pregnancy management, we are your partners in this care,” added Dr. Ashbaugh.
For veterans seeking contraception options, VA Puget Sound offers every form of contraception from pills to patches to implants and IUDS, all the way to hysterectomies, with full year prescriptions available. Emergency contraception is available through our primary care, pharmacy, emergency services, and gynecology.
For those beyond the reproductive years, VA Puget Sound’s interdisciplinary teams of primary care, gynecology, pelvic physical therapy, mental health, and urology are here to support Veterans through menopause and in every life transition.
The Kate Hendricks SERVICE Act extends access to mammograms to all female Veterans who served in areas with toxic exposures. This Act affords veterans with toxic exposure history the opportunity for breast cancer risk assessments with a provider and potentially early mammography, even before the age of 40 years old, based on toxic exposure history in combination with other risk factors.
“There is no evidence at this time linking toxic exposures to increased breast cancer risk, but the VA wants to ensure that Veterans who had toxic exposures can discuss their risk and, in some cases, undergo mammography earlier than the standard medical guidelines recommend,” said Dr. Ashbaugh. “If you would like to explore your breast cancer risks, please schedule with your provider today. Veterans who are not yet engaged with our services are also eligible for this screening, so please contact us if this applies to you.”
VA also offers a full range of mental health care support including integrated care teams, inpatient and outpatient care, substance use disorder and specialty mental health care. Specialized programs for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder, substance use disorder, and homelessness are also available. “Every VA facility has a designated Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator who is there for you, to advocate for you, and to help you find and access VA and community resources,” Dr. Ashbaugh added.
About VA Puget Sound Health Care System:
VA Puget Sound provides comprehensive care to more than 155,000 Veterans across the Pacific Northwest—approximately 120,000 are enrolled with a primary care team at one of its care sites: two main campuses (American Lake and Seattle), seven outpatient clinics (Edmonds, Everett, Mount Vernon, Olympia, Port Angeles, Puyallup and Silverdale) and two Community Resource & Referral Centers (Georgetown in Seattle and Renton). As the VA’s 4th largest research program, VA Puget Sound has research in virtually every major clinical department, including: TBI and multiple blast exposures; memory improvement and Alzheimer's Disease; PTSD and deployment health; Parkinson’s Disease; diabetes; cancer; substance abuse; lower limb prosthetics; genomics; and Health Services. Additionally, it has seven nationally recognized Centers of Excellence (in areas from limb-loss prevention and prosthetic engineering to primary care education and substance abuse treatment). For more information visit www.va.gov/puget-sound-health-care or call 800-329-8387. For Veterans in Crisis, please use the Veterans Crisis line at 988 (press 1).