NBC Montana: VA aims to improve services for women veterans

by Mackenzie Quinn

In a ceremony Thursday morning, Butte residents took time to thank women veterans for their service.

“They cut their hair, wore men’s clothes to stand tall on the battlefield,” said Butte-Silver Bow Fire Captain Brant Bristol.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reported that over 8,500 women veterans live in Montana — roughly 9% of the veteran population.

“Since 2001, women veterans receiving care (from the VHA) has tripled to almost 550,000 women veterans today,” explained Jon Jensen, chief of staff with the Veterans Health Administration.

Right now, over 2 million vets in the U.S. are women, but only a fraction are receiving help from the VHA.

Research shows the VA could expect demand for help to grow, as 14% of the enlisted population is now women, compared with 2% back in 1973.

“Women are the fastest growing component of VA health care,” said U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.

Federal representatives say they’re developing different programs based on feedback they receive from veterans like Eileen Greb.

“I think that (they should) focus on the sexual abuse for women that, you know, were abused in during their service or harassed during their service,” said Greb.

Greb served as a Navy nurse, with 10 years in active duty and 15 years in the inactive reserve.

“I hope that they will continue the sensitive approach of being able to ask people if that occurred and also to get them help,” said Greb. “I fortunately was not involved in a thing like that, but I do know that a lot of my sister soldiers were.”

Both Jensen and Greb agreed, as veterans themselves, the best way to find out what veterans need is to open the line of communication.

“We find that through asking them, ‘What is it that you need?’ we focus on what matters to those veterans,” said Jensen.

That’s how the Center for Women Veterans, which provides specialized care for victims of military sexual trauma, got developed. But is it enough to satisfy the growing veteran population?

“We’re not where we need to be, but we’re working in the right direction,” said Tester. “I think we’ll get there and, hopefully, the sooner the better.”