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Published December 03, 2012, 11:30 PM

Rural, women veterans have less access to VA health care, town hall attendees say

FARGO – Living in the big city has its perks. For Iraq war veteran Brad Aune, it means walking just down the street to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center for both mental and physical health care, a comfort not afforded to veterans in the rural parts of the state.

By: Erik Burgess, INFORUM

FARGO – Living in the big city has its perks.

For Iraq war veteran Brad Aune, it means walking just down the street to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center for both mental and physical health care, a comfort not afforded to veterans in the rural parts of the state.

“If you live in Dickinson and you gotta come here, that’s a two-day sick leave,” he said, noting that the state’s only VA hospital is in Fargo, and many veterans are referred to the metro for their health care.

“They just assume people have the time and resources to get here,” said Aune, also the commander of the local legion.

Concerns of rural veterans, as well as women veterans, were two topics discussed at a town hall meeting at the American Legion here Monday night hosted by national representatives of the group.

Those national representatives will be surveying the VA Medical Center here this week, analyzing specifically their care of women. They also act as lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

“We want to make sure (women are) receiving the comprehensive health care that their male counterparts are receiving,” said Warren Goldstein, one of the representatives.

Women have been in the military for decades, but now more are serving and there is a need to provide them with specific care, said Launette Figliuzzi, an Army veteran and Cass County’s Veterans Service officer.

Women now make up about 15 percent of the country’s 1.4 million service members. About 340,000 women veterans are enrolled in the VA health care system.

“Even though they cannot serve in combat arms, they are still on our front lines and still faced with the dangers and hostilities that our men soldiers and warriors are,” she said.

And when it comes to the growing number of women veterans, it’s important that VA medical centers are staffed to understand both physical health needs, such as pap smears and mammograms, and mental needs, like military sexual trauma.

“The health needs are different in woman than men,” said Cathy Keogh, a 28-year veteran of the North Dakota National Guard. “If you look at the VA or the military in itself, they really haven’t needed to deal with the numbers of women veterans (until more recently).”

These are issues the Fargo center handles well, Figliuzzi said, channeling what she hears from female veterans she speaks to. “They feel very well cared for at the VA (in Fargo),” she said.

But some town hall attendees pushed the representatives to question the medical center here about long-distance referrals for rural vets and lacking services in smaller towns.

“Basically, the further you get from the VA center, the care is much more limited,” Aune said. “They’re working hard to address those needs, but it’s a matter of, ‘We need more money.’ ”


The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518

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