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Lawmakers turn VA scandal focus to female veterans

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Lawmakers turn VA scandal focus to female veterans

By Darcy Spears. CREATED Jul 8, 2014

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- 50 members of Congress say the VA is failing female veterans when it comes to healthcare.

Tuesday, they sent a letter to Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson urging him to fix that. So what's the picture of women veterans' health in the Las Vegas VA?

They make up 15 percent of the Armed Forces and that's expected to increase. Women warriors have served our country in every branch of the military, but how well are we serving them when it comes to healthcare?

"The services haven't really accommodated women, either in terms of healthcare or in educational needs," said Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, who we spoke with on a recent visit to Las Vegas where she expressed concerns regarding the VA Hospital Women's Center.

"I was concerned that it's not up and running."

Nearly two years after the VA's North Las Vegas hospital opened, the Women's Health Center quietly started seeing patients with a soft opening on June 23.

"I think they don't want to make any mistakes so that's why they're doing it as a soft opening, so if there are any bugs they can get them worked out before they fling the doors open and then have to retract and I appreciate that but I don't want a soft opening to last for six months," said Titus.

Tuesday, Rep. Titus released a letter, signed by 50 members of Congress, citing the VA's shortcomings in providing quality women's healthcare.

It reads: "Unfortunately, recent reports have highlighted chronic problems that are compromising this care, including a lack of women's health providers, problems with the coordination of care, and inappropriate treatment."

Here in Las Vegas, Titus said, "We've got 25,000 women veterans here that we know about and I think there are more in the shadows because women veterans are less likely than men to come forward asking for assistance."

So will our new Women's Health Center lead the way or lag behind?

Veteran Rhonda Chinault served in the Air Force for nearly 10 years. She's a VA employee and a patient who's optimistic about what the center has to offer.

"It's also located in a facility that has all these awesome specialty programs available for me. For instance if I have to go to podiatry it's right here. I can coordinate my care, get all my things done on the same day. I can run downstairs to the pharmacy. I can go to the lab. Just really convenient."

But problems Contact 13 has uncovered at the Las Vegas VA, cost overruns, patients sent out of state for care and months-long wait times for appointments; those things worry Congresswoman Titus when it comes to the Women's Center.

"I'm concerned about not being staffed to the level that it needs to be staffed."

Turns out, her concern is valid.

It's true that the Women's Health Center is open but not fully staffed. And though they say it will be within the next 4 to 6 weeks, there's one thing that won't be here, a full-time staff gynecologist.

That puts Las Vegas as the one in nearly every four VA hospitals with no full-time gynecologist on staff.

Doctor Armen Nickogosian, chief of primary care at the VA, said they're working with the University of Nevada School of Medicine to bring in a part-time gynecologist. He thinks that will meet the VA patients' needs.

"I don't see that as a concern. We've put a lot of thought, time and effort to making sure that we have the services available."

A full medical staff would include three doctors, three nurses and three LPNs, plus a case worker and program manager for a current load of 2,000 patients.

Titus' letter also cites concerns over the quality of care for female veterans. Like VA doctors writing prescriptions that could cause birth defects, and problems with timely results from breast cancer screenings. 

We'll be keeping tabs on how things develop with the women's center here.

Darcy Spears

Darcy Spears

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Darcy Spears is currently the Chief Investigative Reporter for Action News.