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Transition support for servicewomen planning to leave the military

Three women in military uniforms standing together The Department of Defense & Department of Veteran Affairs’ Women’s Health Transition Training Program stands ready to support all servicewomen when they transition out of the military. (Photo by Mark Oswell, MHS Communications.)

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Transitioning from the Department of Defense into the civilian sector is never easy. Out-processing briefs. Check-out lists. Turning in equipment. Clearing quarters. Turnovers. Farewells. Etc…

Oh, and then there’s the old issue of – ‘what’s next?’

For a few, there is a job or college admission already pending, but for others their future is as uncertain as the day they signed the dotted line.

For women who are departing their service this challenge may be even more daunting.

According to various studies, women veterans sometimes face greater health-related challenges after military service compared to their male counterparts, including: a higher prevalence of chronic pain, obesity, musculoskeletal issues, and depression. Additionally, fewer women Veterans seek services and support from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) compared to men. 

In July 2018, the VA’s Office of Women’s Health Services (WHS), and the Air Force Women’s Initiative Team, worked together under the auspices of the VA/DoD Women’s Health Work Group, and the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to develop and pilot a women’s health training program for servicewomen transitioning from the military to the civilian sector. 

The Women’s Health Transition Training Program (WHTT) was created from this collaboration with the goals of enhancing awareness of the health care services VA offers to women, and increasing transitioning servicewomen enrollment in and use of VA health care services. A year later in July 2019, the WHTT became a permanent, voluntary program under the auspices of TAP.

The WHTT curriculum consist of five phases that take approximately three to four hours during the one-day training. The information provided focuses on women's health care services (including maternity care, cancer screenings, whole health, and mental health care services), the VA process and eligibility requirements for enrollment; and is led by a woman veteran who uses the VA for health care support.

“I was interested in a more woman-focused review of the VA program, since it often felt like the standard briefings overwhelmed me with everything available without much clarity as to how it would directly affect me’” explained Army Capt. Najuma Pembleton, a critical care nurse at the Darnall Army Medical Center at Ft. Hood, Texas.

While Pemberton plans to remain flexible with a focus in travel nursing after retiring, she was impressed with the amount of healthcare resources and points of contact available to point her in the right direction and/or better maneuver through the program.

Although this program is relatively new, its success now has it extended at bases across all of the military services.

However in March 2020, the training had to move to a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual training sessions are now available twice a day, every day throughout December, and will be continue to be run by the VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration.

"Service women can easily access the program utilizing Adobe Connect,” said Nancy Maher, program manager for the VA Women’s Health Transition Training program. “The program is offered in a small group environment where women can ask questions of the trainers who are female Veterans themselves."

Even though we’ve moved to a virtual format, we still encourage all servicewomen who plan to transition from active duty to civilian life or to the Guard and Reserves within the next calendar year to attend this training to learn about VA benefits and the steps to enroll,” said Kimberly Lahm, VA/DoD Health Executive Committee Women’s Health Work Group co-chair.

As of today, the WHTT has supported more than 1,300 servicewomen to date, according to Maher.

Recently retired Marine First Sgt. Jennifer Truslow recognized the importance of taking advantages of all available opportunities.

Prior to retiring at 1st Radio Battalion in Camp Pendleton in September, she took the course to gather more “specific knowledge for the transition from Active Duty to Retiree life in regards to VA Health Care and overall benefits.”

“We have so many opportunities to just listen and learn, and unfortunately many Marines do not take advantage of it,” emphasized the 21-year veteran. “We do not have to always reinvent the wheel if we just know who to talk to.”

Speaking specifically about the WHTT curriculum, Truslow noted, “This session helped provide just another resource to help navigate women specific health care after leaving active duty.  It was good to hear that a lot of my misperceptions or unknowns were common and that there was a coordinator local I could reach out to for help at any time.”

Pemberton, who retires next February after 20 years, agreed, “It should be considered part of the standard briefs provided tor transitioning female military personnel.”

For additional information or to sign up for a training, please visit the WHTT website, and in the WHTT Toolkit.

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With this update, CDC is expanding its existing recommendations to cover all pregnant couples, which includes pregnant women with female sex partners. This guidance also describes what other couples (those who are not pregnant or planning to become pregnant) can do to reduce the risk for Zika virus transmission. CDC’s recommendations for couples planning to become pregnant have been published separately (9).

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