The US military has historically been dominated by men, but women have contributed since the American Revolution. However, it was exactly 100 years ago that women veterans were first offered health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, known as the VA.
Although VA health care has come a long way since 1923, some women veterans say more is needed to meet their unique needs and challenges.
Jessica Maifield served in the US Army Reserve for 22 years. He remembers visiting the VA in his early years of service.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stopped in the hallway to say, you know, ‘Who are you here to visit? Who are you seeing?'” Maifield said. “You know, (it) didn’t occur to anyone at the time, 20 years ago, that I was actually the patient.”
Today, Maifield is more recognized in the hallways of the VA: she is a nurse practitioner who offers health care and service to her fellow female veterans.
“It’s very easy to get a referral,” Maifield said. “You know, a lot of people think it’s hard, and it’s a long process, and how long it takes before I can get care, which is a long-standing stigma (at) the VA. It’s good. it’s just, we’re so far away from that and we can easily get people.”
Amy Diaz began her career in the US Army as a supply specialist. She, like Maifield, turned to nursing after retirement providing the specialized care needed by women veterans.
“Primary care is very important for women,” Diaz said. “We want to have access to primary care and women’s services such as gynecological needs, and even mammography is important. Those are all the needs that women need to be healthy.”
The VA also offers care for those who have experienced sexual assault. Last year, nearly nine thousand sexual assaults were reported within the military, with more than seven thousand of those reports occurring among active duty personnel.
Navy Reservist Susan Mayes spoke to Local 5 about her experience as a sexual assault survivor. Although she reported her assault to another member of the military, Mayes understands why women in the military who experience sexual assault stay silent.
“I think the issue that they face is, there’s kind of a blind eye to it,” said Mayes. “They don’t want to admit that it happens, and maybe every time it happens. It’s more common than they want to believe it is.”
Mayes understands the emotional frustrations that the military’s sexual assault on women can cause in these circumstances.
“There’s a little sense of shame in what happened. Just not wanting to talk about it, just wanting to bury it and just hope it goes away,” Mayes said. “So I think that’s the biggest hurdle, and not knowing that you can get that treatment for (military sexual trauma) through the VA is one of the biggest hurdles in that as well.”
Mayes didn’t get the legal justice she wanted and admits she didn’t seek the health care she needed.
“At the time, I didn’t really have a plan of care for any kind of treatment, he said. “It didn’t come until my reserve time ended in 1991-92. It wasn’t until 2012 that I started actually dealing with sexual trauma in the military.
Now as a Medical Support Assistant, Mayes has made it her mission to support survivors of sexual assault who seek help from the VA.
“It helps to have someone to talk to and get it out of,” Mayes said. “No matter how painful and painful it is, it will help. So don’t just shut up and don’t look for medicine for it.”