Veterans University focuses on increasing access to care

Unique needs for female veterans, in-home care were topics of discussion

Photos by Bracha Sarah Meyerowitcz
Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) spoke at Veteran’s University in Palm Springs May 20.

■ By Bracha Sarah Meyerowitcz / Contributed

Veteran’s University in Palm Springs on May 20 was a treasure trove of information, especially for female veterans. Up until 1967 there was a 3 percent cap on the number of uniformed women in the service; now they make up approximately 15 percent of our armed forces. Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) spoke eloquently about the changing face of health care for veterans.
Those women come to VA medical facilities for everything from maternity care to geriatric care and the VA has made changes to respond to their needs. At the Juliet Clinic in the new ambulatory center in Loma Linda, restrooms were designed to be inside the clinic instead of down the hall, which enables women to collect samples more discretely. Baby changing tables are in both women’s and men’s restrooms, owing to the changing era of fathers caring for their offspring.

VA improving women’s services
A great deal of the push for equality in medical care has come from two women: Shirley Powell, a deceased master sergeant with 38 years of service; and Lisa Roybal, a counselor with a nurse’s degree at the Women Veterans Call Center.
Powell worked closely with Congressman Ruiz to upgrade services to women until her passing this March. Roybal served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years, and two weeks after her duty ended, she joined the VA to improve services to women.
In locations like Iraq, there were no front lines and combat was as real for women as for men. Women, however have smaller frames, and the weight of a Kevlar helmet, ceramic armor that made no provision for breasts, and heavy backpacks created more hip damage for women than men. The VA had to start dealing with unforeseen injuries in women, such as from IEDs and even such issues as infertility, for discharged vets.

Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) presents Staff Sgt. Joe Aviles with some long overdue medals for his service to our country.

Mental health services expands
On average, one out of four women and one out of 100 men were subjected to military sexual trauma that ranged from rape to mental anguish, and the VA has new mental health services caring for their needs. Gender specific choices can be made for treatment by providers of services from preventive to acute care and mental health so all veterans can be comfortable with their care provider.
In-home care increases
As veterans age, there has been an increased need for in-home caregiver services. An outstanding presentation on caregiving and pensions was presented by the duo of John and Ralph, counselors at the Riverside Veterans Office in Indio. If there were ever gurus of VA benefits, this pair made the mark and they are employed not by the VA, but by Riverside County, which is dedicated to serving veterans in the Inland Empire.
Unlike some locations where you are required to make an appointment, Indio is a first-come, first-serve walk in facility open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. John and Ralph provide expert service and they have an abundance of knowledge and information for veterans and those assisting them. To date, more than 20,000 family caregivers have completed certification training for in-home care for veterans.

Disability pensions and appointments easier to come by
To qualify for disability pensions, the current VA standard is “more likely than not.” Your physician can describe the care you were given and state that “more likely than not” the care was needed because of a service-connected injury.
Depending on severity of your current condition, you may be eligible for a partial or full pension even though you were not disabled at the time of your discharge because your condition could have worsened as time progressed.
The VA is constantly improving medical treatment, such as the “Choice Program,” where the patient can choose an outside network provider if the VA cannot give you an appointment within a certain time window. Also, facilities such as Loma Linda do not offer acupuncture, and it is possible to get a limited number of visits in your local area.
Make some calls and investigate whether you or a veteran you know can qualify for some or all of these benefits.
Here are some local resources:
Women’s Veteran Call Center – 855-VA-Women
Riverside Veterans Office – 44-199B Monroe Street, Indio.
In-home certification to care for a veteran: www.caregiver.va.gov or 1-(855) 260-3274

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