Tester Unveils Bill to Change VA Culture, Honor Women Veterans

Senator Joined by Women Veterans and Advocates to Introduce Deborah Sampson Act

(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jon Tester today stood with women veterans and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to unveil his bipartisan legislation to improve services and access at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for women veterans.

The Deborah Sampson Act addresses gender disparities at the VA to ensure that women veterans are getting equitable care. Tester’s legislation will provide enhanced access to VA care and will ensure women veterans are getting the benefits they have earned through their service.

Additionally, Tester’s bill will address the needs of women veterans who are more likely to face homelessness, unemployment, and go without needed healthcare.

“Women are courageously signing up to serve our country at a higher rate than ever before and we need to make sure every resource is available to them when they return from deployment,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This bill will help change the VA’s culture to recognize the women who have served. I’m honored to introduce this legislation to empower Montana women veterans, honor their brave sacrifice, and ensure the VA is holding up its end of the bargain to our sisters, mothers and daughters.”

The Deborah Sampson Act does the following:

  • Empowers women veterans by expanding peer-to-peer counseling, group counseling and call centers for women veterans, 
  • Improves the quality of care for infant children of women veterans by increasing the number of days of maternity care VA facilities can provide and authorizing medically-necessary transportation for newborns,
  • Eliminates barriers to care by increasing the number of gender-specific providers and coordinators in VA facilities, training clinicians, and retrofitting VA facilities to enhance privacy and improve the environment of care for women veterans,
  • Provides support services for women veterans seeking legal assistance, and authorizes additional grants for organizations supporting low-income women veterans, 
  • Improves the collection and analysis of data regarding women and minority veterans, and expands outreach by centralizing all information for women veterans in one easily accessible place on the VA website. 
The Deborah Sampson Act is cosponsored by Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.).

Speakers included the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff as well as Iraq veteran and advocate Kate Hoit.

“In IAVA’s most recent member survey, only 27 percent of women veteran respondents felt that the American public respects their service,” said Rieckhoff. “We’re going to change that. But we can’t do it alone. On behalf of IAVA’s over 425,000 members and supporters I want to thank our champions in Congress for their leadership on the Deborah Sampson Act. Together we will forever change the landscape in America to better recognize and support women veterans.”

“When I walked into my local VA Medical Center after returning from deployment, it was hard to tell that I belonged there as a woman veteran,” said Hoit. “Gender specific care seemed almost foreign. Over the years, I have personally seen the VA improve, but there are still barriers to access. With Senator Tester’s leadership, the Deborah Sampson Act will alleviate some of the most pressing challenges facing women veterans.”

Tester’s bill is endorsed by IAVA, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA).

“For too long, many women veterans have felt marginalized by a VA health care and benefits system designed primarily for men,” said David W. Riley, DAV National Commander. “While significant improvements have been made, there is much work left to create fully equitable care for this rapidly growing demographic of veterans. Senator Tester’s bill would establish a number of critical provisions DAV has advocated for in the hopes of eliminating access barriers for women at VA and creating health care options that meet their unique, gender-specific needs. We applaud Senator Tester’s commitment to the nation’s women veterans and urge swift passage of this important measure.”

“On behalf of the more than 2.2 million members of The American Legion, we are pleased to offer our support for the Deborah Sampson Act, an important women veterans empowerment bill named after a hero of the American Revolution and the only woman to earn a military pension for participation in the Revolutionary army,” said Charles E. Schmidt, The American Legion National Commander. “This bill, as currently written, would improve the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide women’s care, improve services, and change its culture to embrace this growing population.”

“When I left the military, I refused to use VA because I didn’t think it was women friendly,” said Amber Putnam, VFW Women Veterans Committee member. “VA has made much progress in caring for women veterans since then. I now get all my care at VA and as a VFW service officer help other female veterans obtain the care and benefits they have earned. The comprehensive, bipartisan, and bicameral Deborah Sampson Act would ensure transitioning service members don’t have to go through the same experience. It would also make significant improvements to the care and benefits VA provides women veterans to ensure VA is ready and able to care for the fastest growing cohort of the veteran population. The VFW thanks Senators Tester and Boozman and Congresswoman Esty for their hard work on behalf of women veterans and for including recommendations developed by the hard work of the VFW Women Veterans Committee.”

“Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) supports the Deborah Sampson Act of 2017,” said Carl Blake, Associate Executive Director of Government Relations, Paralyzed Veterans of America. “This bill would help to address some of the quality of care barriers that are unique to women veterans. From transition services, to health care access, to the availability of prosthetics, this bill is a critical and timely step to enhancing the health and well-being of women veterans and their families. As women veterans are the fastest growing population of veterans, Paralyzed Veterans urges Congress to enable the VA to improve specialized services for women and enact this legislation.”

The Deborah Sampson Act gets its name from Deborah Sampson, a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to serve in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. She was wounded in 1782 and spent half of her life fighting to be recognized for her service. She is one of a small number of women with a documented record of military combat experience in the Revolutionary War.

The Deborah Sampson Act can be found online HERE. A one pager can be downloaded HERE.