Women Veterans and Reproductive Healthcare: Gaps and Opportunities

In honor of Veteran’s Day, we are highlighting RTI’s research, Reproductive Health of Women Veterans: A Systematic Review of the Literature from 2008 to 2017, which evaluated literature on reproductive health care among female Veterans utilizing the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) system.

The research found that women Veterans reported higher rates of adverse childhood experiences, military-specific experiences such as combat-related injuries, military sexual assault, and occupational exposures compared to non-Veteran women and men. These experiences are increasingly linked to adverse reproductive health outcomes, gynecological health concerns, and risky sexual behavior.

This research highlights a critical need for trauma-informed women-specific health care that also integrates mental health services and treatment into reproductive health care in the military. Two integral themes emphasized by the research include: (1) the impact of lifetime sexual assault and trauma history on reproductive health outcomes, and (2) the impact of mental health history on reproductive health outcomes. While some of these issues are relevant to military health care in general, it is important to note the higher rates of sexual assault and trauma as well as mental illness among female Veterans compared to male Veterans. Mental illness can have drastic impacts on women’s health, worsening symptoms of menopause and increasing risk for complications during pregnancy. It can also reduce adherence to hormonal birth control and increase the likelihood of gynecological symptoms.

The challenges that women Veterans face should not be related to barriers to reproductive care. Great strides for women Veterans’ health care have been made over the last 10 years, but gaps still remain in addressing the intersectional impact of trauma and mental illness on women Veteran’s reproductive health pathology.

All Veterans deserve suitable health care that attends to their specific needs, so it is time to start advocating for the needs of female Veterans, too!

Read the article here.