Women Veterans' Health Care:

VA Efforts to Respond to the Challenge of Providing Sexual Trauma Counseling

HEHS-98-177R: Published: May 21, 1998. Publicly Released: May 21, 1998.

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Stephen P. Backhus
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GAO followed up on congressional concerns about its testimony on the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) sexual trauma counseling programs.

GAO noted that: (1) the scope of GAO's work did not include calling women veterans' coordinators to determine their accessibility by phone nor did it try to determine whether VA needs more full-time women veterans' coordinators; (2) the women veterans' coordinators at the medical centers GAO visited were full-time coordinators; (3) the women veterans' coordinators at the two regional offices GAO visited, however, were part time; although both expressed a desire to have more time for outreach efforts, they did not indicate that they could not respond to women veterans' concerns and calls; (4) GAO did not evaluate individuals' preferences for counseling services in VA, Vet Centers, or by contract; (5) the women GAO spoke with were generally pleased with the services they were receiving regardless of the setting; (6) the women veterans who were receiving counseling in Vet Centers liked the less formal atmosphere and thought the Center gave them more privacy; (7) GAO's review of VA's sexual trauma counseling program did not include an analysis of VA's resources so GAO cannot evaluate the adequacy of VA's funding for sexual trauma counseling services; (8) it is difficult to identify the resources allotted for sexual trauma counseling because funding for most of VA's sexual trauma counseling programs is not earmarked or specifically identified; (9) although Vet Centers may possibly be able to identify sexual trauma counseling resources because they identify the counselors dedicated or qualified to provide this counseling, this is not the case for medical centers; (10) GAO did note in its testimony, however, that staff associated with the sexual trauma counseling programs at three locations it visited expressed some concern about their ability to adequately respond to the demand for counseling; (11) GAO's work revealed that: (a) reservists and National Guard personnel traumatized while serving on active duty for training; and (b) individuals traumatized while on active duty but separated from the military with less than 2 years of service are not eligible for sexual trauma counseling; and (12) although GAO does not know to what extent this presents a problem for these veterans nationwide, VA officials stated that some of these individuals have unsuccessfully sought care in the VA system.

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