Martin C. Evans

VA Hopes Child Care Will Address Female Vets

In Uncategorized on July 20, 2011 at 6:08 pm

The military has 73,000 single parents. Child care is an issue for returning veterans, including increasing numbers of women.

The Veterans Administration will take a step this fall toward filling a need expressed by female vets when it begins offering child care for outpatient visitors at its medical care facility in Northport.

Northport was one of three medical centers chosen by Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki for a pilot program offering free child care while veterans are being treated. Pilot programs will also open in Buffalo, N.Y. and Tacoma, Washington.

Women’s advocates had been especially vocal about adding day care, saying its absence has made VA facilities seem particularly unwelcome to female veterans.

Giustina Penna, 32, an Iraq War veteran from Bay Shore, said she stopped attending psychotherapy sessions at Northport about two years ago in part because she had difficulty arranging for care for an infant son.

“There are a lot of people who can’t take care of themselves because they can’t find anyone to take care of their kids,” said Penna. “And it’s hard to take care of your family when you can’t take care of yourself.”

“I’m very pleased to hear that it is going to go through,” Penna said.

Although Northport has operated a child care center since 1986, the 40-place facility is for the children of its employees.

Penna said she sought psychotherapy treatment at Northport after a 2005 deployment as a truck driver in Iraq left her battling depression and substance abuse. She said she was haunted by having witnessed the death of a child, and that the smell of rotting corpses there had been a frequent reminder of the danger that surrounded her.

“For the next year, I was on a suicide mission,” Penna said.

She said for many parents, the availability of day care will spell the difference between getting regular treatment and doing without.

Central Islip native Sgt. Tito Collazo, who gets treatment for back and shoulder injuries at Northport, said he also plans to make use of the planned day care center.

He said being able to bring his daughter Kaitlyn, 3, will mean he will spend less time worrying about making child-care arrangements, and focus more on his treatments.

“It will relieve so much pressure of finding someone I’m comfortable leaving my daughter with,” said Collazo, 32. “I do have more of a sense of trust with the VA and military organizations.”

With some 73,000 single parents currently serving in the active duty military, child care is expected to be an increasingly urgent need for new veterans seeking health services.

But women remain significantly less likely than men to use VA health facilities, even as the percentage of women in the military continues to grow, according to Patricia Hayes, Chief Consultant of the VA’s Women Veterans Health Strategic Health Care Group.

Many female veterans say VA facilities remain uninviting to women, and remind them of a male-oriented military culture that left large numbers of them scarred by sexual abuse or other emotional traumas.

In addition to child care, women’s advocates have called for extended clinic hours to accommodate single mothers, separate entrances and waiting areas, escorts to help female veterans feel safe, more female-only ptsd counseling programs, and greater resources to address women who were the victims of sexual assault while in the military.

“A coed environment can truly be the worst thing for a woman suffering from Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and PTSD,” Tia Christopher, of the Swords to Plowshares veterans advocacy group, told a Senate hearing in 2009.

In recent years, VA has developed women’s primary care programs at their health care facilities across the nation, and has hired program managers and coordinators to manage care for women veterans

“We hope that by offering safe, secure child care while the Veteran attends a doctor’s appointment or therapy session, we will enable more women Veterans to take advantage of the VA benefits to which they are entitled,” Hayes said in a release.

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