Washington, DC – Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA), Chair of the Women Veterans Task Force during the 116th Congress, released the following statement on the confirmation of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough:
“I want to congratulate Denis McDonough on being confirmed as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. I am ready to work with him to ensure that every veteran has access to the care, benefits, and resources they have earned and deserve.
“Over the last several years, Congress has set forth numerous mandates to guide the mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to meet the growing and changing needs of an increasingly diverse veteran population.
“Launched at the start of the 116th Congress, the Women Veterans Task Force has worked to increase the visibility of the two million women who have served in the U.S. military and to promote inclusivity and equitable access to comprehensive healthcare, education, economic opportunity, and other federal resources, particularly at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“To that end, I am committed to working with the Biden Administration and Secretary McDonough on the issues relevant to the Women Veterans Task Force.
“We have much work to do, and in the 117th Congress, my hope is to work hand-in-hand with VA to achieve these goals for all our nation’s veterans. It is the least we can do in appreciation of their service and sacrifice to our country.”
In December 2020, Congresswoman Brownley sent a letter to then President-elect Biden, which laid out specific actions the new Administration should take pertaining to women veterans. Those actions include:
- Prioritize and Publicize Preventing Violence Against Women. Approximately 1 in 4 women veterans and women employees experience sexual harassment at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), with little accountability for offenders. Past leadership has actively perpetuated a culture of impunity. Existing violence prevention efforts must be expanded, accelerated, and publicized, and led and championed by the VA Secretary.
- Conduct a “Listening Tour” with the Women Veterans Task Force. Brownley has invited the VA Secretary to join the Women Veterans Task Force in holding town halls around the country to specifically hear from women veterans. A listening tour would not only inform policy, but would send the critical message to the nation, to the VA, and most importantly to our women veterans, that they are being heard, that they are no longer invisible.
- Eliminate the ban on Abortion and Abortion Counseling. VA has the most restrictive ban on this provision of women’s healthcare in the entire federal government. This ban can be repealed by the Secretary under broad authority to provide medical care under the Medical Benefits Package.
- Expand availability of in-house gender-specific care. VA must expand the availability of in-house gender specific care, including mammography and OB/GYN care. Committee oversight has found both staff and space shortfalls nationwide. Hiring and construction must take into account the rapid pace of growth and enrollment in the women veteran population.
- Support legislation eliminating copays on contraception. Currently, VA is exempt from the mandate under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that contraception be covered without a copay. The Equal Access to Contraception for Veterans Act would lift this barrier to preventative care.
- Change the VA motto. The current motto excludes the full diversity of all who have “borne the battle” and their families, caregivers, and survivors.
- Renew Efforts to Support Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma (MST). At least 1 in 4 veteran women and 1 in 100 veteran men are survivors of sexual violence in the military. While the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) continues to improve care and access for survivors, the disability claims process at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) requires additional attention so that it does not further retraumatize survivors. Brownley encourages the Biden Administration to further lower the burden of proof on survivors, and incorporate compassionate, trauma-aware practices into the claims process.
- Maintain Close Oversight on Deborah Sampson Act Implementation. The Biden VA must implement the law with an eye towards inclusion that ensures the diversity of the women veteran population is taken into account, to include ethnic and racial diversity, tribal affiliation, rural veterans, LGBTQ veterans, and veterans with spinal cord injuries or disorders (SCI/D).
- Improve Data Collection. The VA Secretary should direct that veterans’ LGBTQ status be captured as a data field in veterans’ electronic health records and elsewhere as appropriate.
To view the letter, click here.