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Ann Arbor Veteran's Hospital Serving More Female Patients

As the month of March, celebrated as Women's History Month, comes to a close, it's an opportunity to talk about some of the changes that are now taking place due to the growing number of women in the military.  WEMU's Lisa Barry reports on how that is impacting the Veteran's Affairs Hospital in Ann Arbor.

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Lisa Barry:  A self-playing piano greets patients at the VA Ann Arbor Health Care System Building, where they are seeing a growing number of female patients in recent years.  This is no longer your father or grandfather's VA hospital.

Cheryl Allen:  Oh yes.  We come a long ways.  Yes.

LB:  That's Cheryl Allen, an RN and the Women Veterans Program Manager at the VA hospital in Ann Arbor.  She says, 12 years ago, they treated about 2,000 female patients at the Ann Arbor facility, and that number has more than doubled to about 4,300 today.  Doctor Steven Domino is a gynecology staff physician and director of the VA hospital's women's health clinic.  He says things have changed over the years as far as the patients they are seeing, and that has prompted a change in the services that are now offered.

Steven Domino:  The VA has done a good job in my mind of bringing resources and intention to needed areas.  For instance, in mental health, there's been a large increase in the number of providers in clinics available to address issues, like military sexual trauma.  MST affects men and women both, but women disproportionately.  The primary care group has embraced the model of a medical home for comprehensive primary health care screening, so that rather than have a woman come to a separate visit for a gynecological annual examination.  That our primary care clinics have been empowered, have the equipment, provide our chaperones to offer pap screening, clinical breast exams as part of a woman's primary care, and I think that's a good trend.

LB:  The biggest group of female veterans seeking treatment served during post-9/11 and peacetime periods, while the largest group of male veterans served during the Vietnam era.  Laurie Young served in the Army for six years as a chaplain's assistant and credits the Ann Arbor VA Hospital for saving her life.

Laurie Young:  I found a lump, and I called the women's health clinic, and I said, "You know, I found this lump, and I don't know what the next step is.  Can someone take a look at it?"  And, you know, Doctor Domino and Cheryl Allen, they did not waste any time.  They're in the women's health clinic.  They got me right in for testing.  They took care of everything, and, when I had questions for the process because I did end up having to go through chemo and radiation and other treatments, Doctor Domino was great.  You know, he said, you know, you have these doctors that specialize in this and this, and that's what they're here to do.  But I said to him, you know, if I have questions, if I need a second opinion, can I ask you those questions, and he said yes.  And he made himself available, you know, which was above what he's supposed to do.

LB:  The average age of a male veteran seeking treatment at the Ann Arbor facility is 63, compared to 48 for women.  Even though they don't deliver babies at the Ann Arbor VA hospital, they do celebrate female veterans who are expecting.  Cheryl Allen says they organized a baby shower for 31 expectant veterans for the fourth year in a row.

CA:  And it's just gotten better each year, and the women really enjoy it.  I try to get feedback from them, and some women, you know, have said to me, especially last year and this year, "Wow!  I didn't think the baby shower would be anything like this.  I thought we would just like have homemade, you know, afghans and different things like that, but this is not that baby shower.  We get brand new, nice items."

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LB:  Allen is obviously proud of the facility, as she takes us on a walk to the women's health clinic at the VA Ann Arbor Medical Center.

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LB:  And Doctor Domino, who is also on staff at the University of Michigan Health Care System, as much as the staff at the VA facility, says it means a lot to him to serve patients there.

SD:  Our VA population is such a deserving population.  I feel very patriotic when I'm in VA Hospital.  The continuum of pictures for military service throughout the years, including more recent conflicts with more women, kind of seamlessly shown how our veteran population has changed.

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LB:  The number of women veterans taking advantage of VA medical benefits increased from 31% in 2005 to over 40% in 2013, which may be music to the ears of those who served their country and now need medical attention.  Lisa Barry.  89.1 WEMU news.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU.  You can contact Lisa at734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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