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Veterans secretary highlights changing culture for female vets


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SALT LAKE CITY — A baby's cry is not a noise you used to hear at the George E. Wahlen VA Medical Center. But you'll certainly hear a lot more of babies cooing and crying in the years ahead.

At first, veteran Tammy New and her husband were apprehensive about maternity care at the VA.

"‘What is the VA going to know about pregnant women?' is what I thought, anyway," said Caleb New, the husband of veteran Tammy New.

The couple's 11-week-old daughter, Alicia, was the first baby born into the VA prenatal and maternity care program. Tammy was part of an early wave of women veterans who will find expanded care tailored to their needs.

Caleb said the hospital is "really great," though, and Tammy has "the utmost confidence in the VA."

And the Women Veterans Clinic is changing a lot of other minds quickly. Women now make up 15 percent of America's active and reserve troops. When they join the ranks of veterans, this is what they need.

Clerie Staten, who served as a medic in Iraq, is 20 weeks along with her fourth child, the first through the VA.

"I was shocked," she said. "When I think veteran, I think of my grandparents, and I think of my grandfather. So it is a different culture, adn a changing culture, but I'm excited to be a part of it."

There are 16,000 female veterans in Utah. There are 20,000 in the entire service area, but only 3,000 are using their benefits. The VA aims to change that, along with the notion of who our veterans are.

"Culture is leadership, and we have taken that on to begin changing the culture," said Eric Shinskeki, the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs.

Shinseki said adding a nursing room, privacy screens and other changes to the facility are easier than transforming the culture. But that's slowly happening as more women understand the benefits they've earned.

I had no idea," Staten said. "I thought maybe they were confused, and I thought maybe it was something I wasn't supposed to receive. The more I looked into it, the more pleased I was."

Those benefits cover just about everything. The couples KSl spoke with said they had no bills and would recommend the clinic to other women vets.

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Jed Boal

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