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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Patriotism Knows No Gender

February 23, 2010

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Gynecology Clinic RN Coordinator Maria Lee, R.N. discusses health care options with Army Veteran Rosemary Mark. Services at the Women’s Health Center are tailor-made for the unique health care needs of women veterans. PHOTO: Fran Burke, Public Affairs Specialist

DeBakey VA Strives to Provide High Quality Health Care for Women Veterans

HOUSTON - The Women’s Health Center at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) opened almost 14 years ago, on April 8, 1996. This “one stop shop” for women includes routine primary care, gynecological services, patient and family education, and preventive medicine. In addition, the MEDVAMC Pharmacy maintains a full line of gender specific medications for women.

“I have been going to the Women’s Health Center since 2001, and I’m very pleased with the service. The staff is very pleasant and the waiting area is very relaxing. The doctors I’ve seen have been very patient when I’m asking questions. I’m proud to be a Veteran and to have served my country,” said Air Force Veteran Alfreda Clay.

Since the birth of this Nation, women have played key roles in serving our country during times of conflict and in times of peace. Women Veterans is one of the fastest growing segments of the Veteran population. They comprise 7.5 percent of the total Veteran population and nearly 5.5 percent of all Veterans who use VA health care services. VA estimates women Veterans will constitute 10 percent of the Veteran population by 2020 and 9.5 percent of VA patients.

Currently, more than 8,000 women Veterans receive health care services at the DeBakey VA Women’s Health Center. “We anticipate enrolling, through outreach efforts, an additional 6,000 women Veterans,” said Pamela Swope, FNP, CRNP-BC, Women Veterans Health Program manager.

MEDVAMC is already planning for this growth by relocating and expanding the current Women’s Health Center, and adding additional health care providers and ancillary staff. The new center will provide more exam rooms as well as extra space with a larger waiting room to accommodate women in a comfortable, friendly atmosphere.

“Our goal has been to ensure the architectural layout and design are conducive to health and healing. Additionally, we have upgraded our hospital and our VA outpatient clinics by adding baby changing tables in both the women and men’s restrooms,” said Swope. “Our women Veterans are able to choose their primary care provider and soon will be able to receive gender specific care on a primary care team or in the new Women’s Health Center. We believe patients are the driving force in where they wish to receive their health care by offering choices and empowering them through information and education. Our new Medical Home Initiative seeks to honor the Veteran’s expectations of safe, high quality, accessible care.”

Services at the Women’s Health Center are tailor-made for women’s unique health care needs. They are provided a variety of preventive, acute, and chronic medical care in an appropriate, timely, and compassionate manner. All Veterans are screened for military sexual trauma and post traumatic stress disorder.

“We have comprehensive and state-of-the-art medical, surgical, and mental health services available for all female Veterans,” said Swope. “The ultimate goal of the Women’s Health Center is to enable women Veterans to achieve an optimal level of health, function, and independence.”

MEDVAMC recently initiated clinical use of a surgical robotic system to perform minimally invasive gynecological operations, including minimally invasive hysterectomies.

Last year, the MEDVAMC added a mental health inpatient unit with 10 beds especially for women Veterans. This new inpatient unit responds to the distinctive mental health needs of this group and accommodates female Veterans who do not feel comfortable in mixed-gender treatment settings.

Counseling and treatment is also available for survivors of military sexual trauma. Group counseling sessions and support groups are available at the Women’s Health Center and at the three Vet Centers in Houston.

Women Veterans who obtain their care at one of the VA outpatient clinics receive the same services, including well-woman exams and mental health services, as those who seek care at the MEDVAMC.

“We tailor our services to the needs and wants of our women Veterans. We strive to keep the promise of excellent, dynamic, equitable, accessible health care. Our motto ‘You Served, You Deserve the Best Care Anywhere’ is our standard,” said Swope. “As the Women Veterans Program manager, I constantly look for ways to improve our programs and am here to serve our Veterans.”

MEDVAMC recognizes the importance of the contributions made by women Veterans in the service to their country and the price many have paid to preserve our freedoms. For more information about programs available for women Veterans, contact Swope at 713-791-1414, ext. 5783 or e-mail

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