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Tue Mar 12, 2019, 04:36 PM

Treated Like a 'Piece of Meat': Female Veterans Endure Harassment at the V.A. (the war on women)

Treated Like a ‘Piece of Meat’: Female Veterans Endure Harassment at the V.A.


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Corey Foster, 34, retired as an Army sergeant. “Standing in line at the registration desk, I was getting comments from the male patients behind me, looking me up and down,” she said, describing a visit to her local Veterans Affairs medical center. “It was a major source of discomfort.”CreditCreditErin Schaff/The New York Times


Corey Foster spent her Army career caring for wounded troops, both as a flight medic in the Iraq war and at Walter Reed hospital, so she looked forward to one of the most celebrated benefits of military service — health care for life from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Then she walked through the door at a V.A. medical center in Temple, Tex. “You felt like you were a piece of meat,” said Ms. Foster, 34, who retired as a sergeant. “Standing in line at the registration desk, I was getting comments from the male patients behind me, looking me up and down. It was a major source of discomfort.” The treatment was the same at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where Ms. Foster moved after living in Texas. At that point she gave up, and opted for her husband’s insurance outside the department. “They need to make the facilities not feel like an old soldier’s home,” Ms. Foster said.

An entrenched, sexist culture at many veterans hospitals is driving away female veterans and lags far behind the gains women have made in the military in recent years, veterans and lawmakers of both parties say. Although the Department of Veterans Affairs has scrambled to adjust to the rising population of female veterans and has made progress — including hiring more women’s health care providers, fixing basic privacy problems in the exam rooms and expanding service to women in rural areas — sexual harassment at department facilities remains a major problem.

Women say it is galling that such a demeaning atmosphere persists, especially for the roughly 30 percent of female veterans who have reported being harassed or assaulted while serving in the military. That number includes Senator Martha McSally, Republican of Arizona, who spoke at a congressional hearing last week about being raped by a superior officer while serving in the Air Force. “Changing the culture has been an ongoing, overarching goal,” said Dr. Patricia Hayes, the chief consultant for Women’s Health Services at the veterans agency. “We want women veterans to feel respected and safe and secure.”

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Doctors and medical assistants at the Jesse Brown Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Chicago, where the vast majority of doctors and staff are women and the five exam rooms and waiting area are only for women.CreditAlyssa Schukar for The New York Times

At a recent hearing with veterans agency officials on Capitol Hill, Representative John Carter, Republican of Texas, described the treatment of female constituents trying to obtain V.A. health care. “It’s like a construction site,” he said. Mr. Carter cited the same medical center in Texas that Ms. Foster had used — and noted that the Women’s Trauma Recovery Center within it was moved last year to a female-only facility in Waco so that women, who said they feared for their safety, could receive treatment without facing harassment.

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https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/12/us/politics/women-veterans-harassment.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

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