Weekly Columns

Women have served in our nation’s uniform since the Revolutionary War. Today, this population is the fastest growing in the veteran community. We have a responsibility to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is meeting their needs. With the historic passage of the Deborah Sampson Act we are one step closer to fulfilling our promise to women veterans.

The landmark legislation, headed to the President’s desk to be signed into law, will eliminate barriers to care and services that many women face when accessing VA benefits. Named after a Revolutionary War veteran who disguised herself as a man to help fight for her country, we are honoring her legacy in the legislation that addresses the gender disparities at the VA.

A majority of women veterans are hesitant to turn to the VA for help. More than 50 percent of women veterans believe they are not entitled to or eligible for VA care. We need to create a culture at the VA that welcomes women veterans and makes them feel like they belong. It’s long overdue that we update the belief that when a woman seeks care at the VA it’s not because her husband is the veteran.

Arkansas women shared with me some of their experiences at the VA. Some required referrals to community care because the services provided at the VA didn’t accommodate all their medical needs. Others were about the lack of privacy in exam rooms and the length of time to schedule appointments with medical professionals who specialize in women’s health. 

Senate VA Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-MT) and I first introduced the Deborah Sampson Act nearly four years ago to correct these inequities. We crafted the legislation based on the recommendations we heard from veterans.

We knew our colleagues understood the necessity of updating the VA’s approach to serving women and we worked with them, the VA and Veteran Service Organizations to make our bill better. That’s one reason it received unanimous support in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

We were helped along the way by Arkansas members of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) who made the Deborah Sampson Act a cornerstone of their legislative priorities. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) was an early supporter of the bill. In celebrating its passage, an IAVA member said “we have won a great victory for women veterans.” 

Among improvements the Deborah Sampson Act delivers is requiring the VA to address privacy concerns and enhance access to medical professionals who specialize in women’s care. Additionally, it creates a dedicated Office of Women’s Health that will ensure standards of care are being meet by all VA medical centers.  

I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished to break down the barriers to care and services that prevent many women from accessing the VA benefits they earned. This is a milestone for 19,000 Arkansas women veterans and the millions of others around the country. I remain committed to ensuring improvements we approved in the Deborah Sampson Act are successfully implemented.