​Rep. Cisneros Introduces Legislation to Expand Veteran Women’s Health Transition Training Pilot Program

May 23, 2019
Press Release

Rep. Cisneros Signing the Legislation Before Introducing the Bill.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (CA-39) and Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06) introduced the Helping Expand and Launch Transitional Health (HEALTH) for Women Veterans Act. This bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to extend an ongoing pilot program jointly run with the US Air Force under the Transition Assistance Program that educates transitioning servicewomen about women’s health care at the VA.

“Despite being the fastest growing cohort in our military community, many servicewomen face unique issues related to their transition to civilian life that go unaddressed. This legislation will help ensure transitioning servicewomen are aware of the health services available to them, including eligibility for gender-specific services and mental health programs before it is too late” said Rep. Cisneros. “As a Navy veteran from a family of veterans, I know firsthand that too often the handoff between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs leaves many veterans struggling on their own and unaware of the benefits available to them. We need to make it easier for our servicemembers to receive the care they need and deserve, and I’ll continue to work to ensure that our government is committed to serving those who have served us.”

"With only 25% of women veterans utilizing VA health care services, it is very important that DOD and VA are working hand-in-hand to provide women veterans with comprehensive information about the VA enrollment process and gender-specific care and services available to them, especially as women veterans are transitioning back to civilian life. This legislation is a key step in better addressing the unique healthcare needs of women veterans and improving their health outcomes,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley (CA-26), Chairwoman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s Women Veterans Task Force and the Subcommittee on Health. “This is one of the top priorities of the Women Veterans Task Force and I look forward to continuing to work with Rep. Cisneros to move this critical bill through the legislative process.”

“A month ago, I wrote a letter that was signed by 33 of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Navy urging both the Army and Navy to pursue full participation in the VA’s Women’s Health Transition Assistance pilot program,” said Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan (PA-6), Chairwoman of the Servicewomen and Women Veterans Congressional Caucus. “When I separated from the Air Force, I wasn’t educated about any of the care that the VA offered for women veterans. Today, with a record number of women vets serving in Congress, it is time we stand up for the brave women who wear and wore the uniform. We lose too many veterans to suicide, and I believe it is my and my colleagues’ duty to fight for those who have already given so much to our country. That is why I’m introducing this bill today. That is why I launched the first ever Servicewomen and Women Veterans Congressional Caucus. Our branches of the military owe these women every opportunity to become fully educated and aware of their options for receiving health care and life-saving treatments. In the Air Force, I promised to leave no one behind, and with this bill, I am honoring that promise.”

Last month, during a House Veterans Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Health hearing titled, Cultural Barriers Impacting Women Veterans’ Access to Healthcare, Rep. Cisneros received testimony from the VA on the success of the program in combatting the rising suicide rate among women veterans and asked how Congress could help build on its success.  Additionally, under the leadership of Rep. Houlahan, a fellow veteran and Chairwoman of the Servicewomen and Women Veterans Congressional Caucus, Rep. Cisneros sent a letter to the Secretaries of the Army and Navy expressing support for an expansion of this program to their branches.

Rep. Cisneros is a Navy veteran and is a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and House Committee on Armed Services.  He is also a member of the Servicewomen and Women Veterans Congressional Caucus and the Bipartisan Women Veterans Task Force.

Background:

Studies have shown that women veterans do not connect with the VA until an average of 2.7 years post military service or until health issues have manifested, contributing to higher rates of mental health issues.  The promising pilot program run by the Air Force and the VA aims to increase transitioning servicewomen’s knowledge of the VHA health care system, enrollment process, and eligibility for gender-specific services. 

According to the Department of Defense, participants in the program have shown higher rates of confidence with the VA and report that they are more likely to use VA healthcare and resources.  The HEALTH for Women Veterans Act would build on this success by mandating the extension of the pilot program and, in response to recommendations in the VA’s testimony, require the DoD and VA to assess the feasibility in making the program permanent, offering an online version, and using it to auto-enroll participants in VA healthcare.