CLEVELAND (WJW) — Inside the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, there is a recently opened new addition dedicated to serving women, a demographic of proud veterans some doctors describe as overlooked.
“Veterans deserve the best care anywhere because of the services they’ve provided and the sacrifices they’ve made for our country,” said Dr. Lori Leonard, Section Chief of Women’s Health at the Cleveland VA Medical Center. “As an example, they would come up to a window for an appointment and they would be told are you here for your husband’s appointment?”
In the year since opening the Center for Women’s Health, Dr. Leonard said a goal of the specialized center among a list of initiatives is to better ensure women seeking healthcare do not have their military service minimized.
The center offers a variety of services including primary care, mental health services, OBGYN, military sexual trauma specialists and special groups for intimate partner violence.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans, women are the fastest-growing group of veterans.
United States Army Nurse Corps Veteran Ellen Rogers said she will never forget leaving her young family to serve.
“I was deployed to Somalia, and I was deployed when my daughter was four months old,” Rogers said.
Overcoming trauma while trying to fit back into her family’s life after deployment was no easy order.
“Knowing that she was only four months, I missed many months of her life. So coming back from that deployment I didn’t know where I fit in,” Rogers said. “I didn’t know how I fit into the family. If they did so much without me, did they really need me back? So, I did go through a very difficult time of anger and a time of sadness.”
Rogers said she may have sought counseling during that transition in her career if she had access to a place like the Center for Women’s Health where she works as the women’s veterans program manager.
“It’s emotional. I think it’s triggering because you don’t deal with it at the time,” Rogers said. “We had some really terrible things happen.”
“So here is a place she can escape all of that she doesn’t have to deal with those things, and we have special training in the care of women veterans and the health needs that they uniquely have,” Dr. Leonard said.
It’s a change Dr. Leonard said is overdue.
U.S. Army Veteran Laketta Lester, a patient at the center, said she sees the value in specialized healthcare for women veterans.
“I matter. I’m important,” she said.
Lester uses many of the healthcare services offered at the center and encourages other veterans to do the same.
“I think it’s someplace where they will feel safe,” Lester said. “I think it’s someplace where they will feel important. Like they feel they’re getting the best care possible.”
Lester said support from a compassionate care team makes all the difference in healthcare.
“That is certainly the hope,” said Dr. Leonard. “We want to create that environment where they feel safe to reveal some of those very difficult and painful things. It matters because a female veteran matters. The woman veteran matters and we owe it to them to give them the best care there is.”