Weatherford Democrat

February 17, 2013

Female veterans target of heart health outreach


Weatherford Democrat

— By JIM VINES

On Feb. 1st the nation celebrated “National Wear Red Day” to educate women about the risks of heart disease.

The Department of Veterans Affairs joins this effort to inform women veterans about this leading cause of death in women veterans. The VA, in collaboration with the American Heart Association, is prioritizing heart disease prevention and outreach to women veterans.

Cardiovascular disease frequently affects the fastest growing demographic in the VA’s female patient population, those that served in Vietnam and Gulf War. Nearly one third of women veterans under VA care have high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure. To address this issue, the VA has been aggressive in its fight against heart disease in women and has worked to eliminate gender disparities in prevention and treatment of cardiovascular risk factors. Two recent VA reports show the VA has eliminated significant gender disparities in high blood pressure and diabetes and has reduced the same in other areas.

In addition, a VA cardiovascular workgroup is examining ways to improve women veterans heart health through education. Healthy Heart events and expos are being held for VA employees throughout the country, many of whom are veterans, and the public. The VA encourages facilities to coordinate similar events locally. Addressing issues like cardiovascular disease head on ties directly with the VA’s focus on personalized, proactive care for VA patients. The VA will continue to exceed expectations in this and other critical issues facing women veterans.

Women serve in all branches of the military, representing 15 percent of today’s active duty military and nearly 18 percent of National Guard and Reserve forces. Women are the fastest growing group within the veterans’ community. Of the 22.7 million living veterans, more than 1.8 million are women. They comprise nearly 8 percent of the total veteran population and more than 6 percent of all veterans who use VA health care services.

On Jan. 25, the VA announced the award of more than 30 grants totaling more than $2 million to VA facilities for projects that will improve emergency health care services for women veterans, expand women’s health education programs for VA staff, and offer telehealth programs to female veterans in rural areas. To learn more about this information or VA programs and services for women veterans, go to www.va.gov/womenvet and www.womenshealth.va.gov.

Encouraging benefits use

According to the VA more than 94,000 veterans have applied for Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) for education benefits. To date the VA has approved more than 77,000 certificates of eligibility. However, just over 27,000 of those eligible veterans have begun using their benefit.

The VA is encouraging veterans to finish the process and get enrolled in eligible education programs as soon as possible. There are a total of 99,000 slots and the VA does not want any slots to go unused.

The program is only two years old and by law the VA can only accept applications until Sept. 30, and the last payment can be made through March 31, 2014. VRAP participants that do not enroll in school by March of this year will not be able to receive a full 12 months of training.

VRAP participants are being warned that they must apply and begin using their benefits as soon as feasible, or notify the VA to cancel their Certificate of Eligibility to make room for other veterans to use the benefit. For more information visit www.acot.edu/vrap.

Speak to you again next week.

Jim Vines is commander of AmVets Post 133.