Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA), House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA), Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) released the following statements on the one-year anniversary of the enactment of the Deborah Sampson Act. The banner accomplishment for the Women Veterans Task Force, the Deborah Sampson Act is the most comprehensive legislation for women veterans in a decade. The comprehensive legislation, which was signed into law on January 5, 2021, helps address the inequities and barriers that women veterans face when accessing VA care and benefits.
“Passing the Deborah Sampson Act was an historic step forward for women veterans across the nation, as well as their families, caregivers, and survivors,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley. “A year later, this bill has started to make a difference by improving the quality of healthcare and services for women veterans at VA facilities throughout the country.
“The Deborah Sampson Act propelled VA to improve medical facilities capacity to provide care to women veterans, establish training so that community-care providers are aware of the unique needs of women veterans, expand the agency’s women veterans healthcare “mini-residency” program, and formalize the existence of the Office of Women’s Health within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).
“Even with these critical achievements, there is work left to do to ensure the full and effective implementation of the Deborah Sampson Act. I am committed to making sure the many important provisions of this bill are fully enacted, and to bringing VA closer to true equity for women veterans accessing care and services.”
“The Deborah Sampson Act – enacted one year ago today – is the most comprehensive bill for our country’s two million women veterans in over 10 years. On this first anniversary, I am pleased at the early progress VA has made in implementing certain provisions of this bill that will ultimately help eliminate the barriers to care and services women veterans have previously faced,” said House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano. “This includes: making permanent the Office of Women’s Health at VA; retrofitting several existing VHA facilities to better support the needs of women veterans; expanding VHA’s mini-residency program; and rolling out new training for community providers to help them better understand the unique needs of women veterans. There is still a lot to do to foster a welcoming environment at VA for all women veterans, and to ensure that women veterans can access timely, comprehensive VA healthcare services nationwide. However, today, I am thankful for Congresswoman Brownley’s tireless work on the Deborah Sampson Act, for her staunch advocacy on behalf of women who have served, and for VA’s efforts under Secretary McDonough’s leadership to rightfully acknowledge the service and sacrifice of women veterans.”
“Today, we mark the first anniversary of the signing of the Deborah Sampson Act – a historic moment for nearly two million women veterans who will receive expanded access to quality health care and benefits under this law,” said Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jon Tester. “The provisions we secured last year honor our continued commitment to supporting those who’ve worn the uniform, and I’ll keep pushing VA to ensure this law is implemented in a way that best serves women veterans now and into the future.”
Women have served in every American conflict since the Revolutionary War; among them, Deborah Sampson and Margaret Corbin, were the first American women known to have served in combat. In the early 1800s, Congress granted both women veterans pensions for their service. Today, there are over two million women veterans in the United States. They comprise the fastest-growing, and most diverse demographic in both the military and veteran population.
Despite centuries of honorable service and constant, steady growth in the veteran population since the start of the all-volunteer force in 1974, women who serve our country are still often treated as second-class servicemembers and veterans. A visible minority in the military, women too often are made to feel like they do not belong. Worse, the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system remains rife with barriers to basic care, like mammography and other gender-specific services.
The Women Veterans Task Force identified systematic deficiencies for women, including longer wait times, sexual harassment by fellow veterans, staffing shortages, and facilities that fail to meet basic environment-of-care standards. The Women Veterans Task Force also found that women veterans are largely satisfied with their care when it is properly resourced.
The Deborah Sampson Act is the result of several hearings, roundtables, site visits, and meetings with women veterans and advocates across the country to identify issues and barriers women veterans face when accessing care and benefits. The Deborah Sampson Act aims to create equitable access to healthcare, housing, legal services, and other resources and benefits.
In its first year of implementation, the Deborah Sampson Act:
- Codified the existence of the Office of Women’s Health within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), with a Chief Officer for Women’s Health who reports directly to VHA’s Under Secretary for Health. This will help ensure that VHA always maintains its focus on delivering high-quality healthcare to women who have served.
- Executed $20 million in congressionally appropriated funds to retrofit existing VHA medical facilities to better support delivery of care to women veterans. All of these funds were obligated in fiscal year 2021. As mandated by the Deborah Sampson Act, VA has also developed a 5-year strategic plan for additional projects to improve the environment of care for women veterans at VHA medical facilities.
- Carried out the first year of a 5-year, $5 million expansion of VHA’s women veterans healthcare “mini-residency” program. This will help ensure that every VA medical facility has clinicians who have been specifically trained to deliver comprehensive primary care to women veterans.
- Established a training module for VA community providers, to help improve knowledge of the unique needs of women veterans. VA implemented this provision of the Deborah Sampson Act well in advance of the deadline mandated in the law.