Like most Veteran’s Administration hospitals and clinics around the country, the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee sees a majority of male patients. Women make up just a little over 15 percent of current active and reserve military members across all services and about 10 percent of the total US veteran population. But especially now that women can and do serve in combat, it’s crucial that the VA respond appropriately.
Milwaukee native Dr. Akeira Johnson is only the second director of the Women’s Health initiative at the Zablocki VA. Women can get all of their care either at the VA or through the VA, but Johnson says one of her biggest challenges is just getting the women veterans in the door.
“A really great success story is a patient I had whose friend tricked her into coming into the VA,” she says. “Every terrible thing that happened to her [while she was in the service] was rekindled at that moment. We got her set up but it took a lot of work, a lot of multi-disciplinary action from different services.”
Getting the rest of the VA personnel up to speed is a challenge as well. Johnson says that medical and support staff are so used to thinking of their patients as male, the pronoun “he” is often used in a chart even when it’s clear the patient is female.
“We need to get better at this and make sure everyone understands what we do for women here,” Johnson says. “I don’t think there is any malicious intent behind it, I just think people don’t know and they assume.”
Johnson is hopeful that the Zablocki VA's current work with women vets, along with their planned new initiatives, will be seen as a model of the way care can be offered across the entire VA system. She points out that things change in the VA when there are numbers to support it: “I think that if we’re able to support this and show consistency, that will serve as a model for other places.”