SHEFFIELD VILLAGE — Women who served in America's armed forces were guests at an open house last week at the Veterans Affairs Lorain Outpatient Clinic on Abbe Road in Sheffield Village.
Women are the fastest-growing group of U.S. veterans, according to Ashley Matho, nurse manager at Sheffield Village and Sandusky outpatient clinics. The open house for women vets was her idea. Matho, in her current position 11 years, began her VA career at the Cleveland VA's Wade Park facility, eventually becoming lead R.N. for the Women's Health Center.
She and other staff at the Sheffield Village facility said many women veterans are unaware of the wide range of services available to them at the VA.
Navy veteran Gail Peckman agreed. She was active duty from 1977-80 and served in the reserves until 1997. During that time she lived in Los Angeles and recalled she was often the only woman in a roomful of veterans waiting to be seen.
She first visited the Sheffield Village outpatient clinic a year ago to enroll her Korean War veteran father for VA services. When staff learned she was a veteran too, they encouraged her to enroll, which she did.
She said she still uses TRICARE insurance available to active duty and retired military and their families. However, as Matho suggested, many vets who have other insurance may still use the VA health service that offers lower co-pays or services unavailable through their insurers. For Peckham, the VA's Move program was an option not offered by TRICARE.
The 19-week weight-management program offers exercise and diet tips. However, before entering the program, she was required to see a doctor and dietitian. They continue to follow her through the program. Vets are allowed to enroll more than once to reach their goals.
Sheffield Clinic staff member Heather Sabo served four years active duty with the U.S. Navy, including posts on the USS Enterprise and USS George Washington as well as the Naval Air Terminal in Norfolk. She said she signed up for opportunities to travel and made lifelong friendships in the service. "They were the best four years of my life," she said.
Following discharge, Sabo attended school to pursue a degree in health care. She also worked for the Cleveland Clinic, but she continued to look for an opening at the VA that was a fit for her. That happened a little more than two years ago.
She emphasized that VA patients can call directly to their primary care team consisting of a doctor, R.N., L.P.N. and scheduler, like herself. "Folks here are the most caring group of people," Sabo said. "You're a person and we want to take care of you."
Matho agreed, saying she wanted women veterans to know, "We have highly trained professionals who can provide service and meet their needs."
Matho's earlier experience at Wade Park's Women's Health Center gives her insight into all the services available to women who are veterans.
Too many think of the VA as "their grandfather's VA," she said before ticking off a long list of services for women, ranging from gynecology and obstetrics to mammography, or help with infertility, birth control, menopause and endometriosis.
She said Wade Park has 3D imaging capability using tomography. It has a breast clinic, so women who are at higher risk of breast cancer can be tracked. It also offers pelvic floor therapy to aid with incontinence and related issues.
She spoke highly of the doctors providing services for women, highlighting Dr. Mark Chapman, who has been rated as a "top doc" by Cleveland Magazine.
In addition to specialized services for women, the VA provides mental health services including for PTSD and depression, suicide prevention, alcohol and drug addiction services, primary care, audiology, optometry and physical therapy. Matho added the VA is often able to secure prescription drugs at lower rates through its in-house pharmacy and they can be mailed to patients.
Meanwhile, women continued to come through the front doors, serenaded by a combo playing smooth jazz and an occasional Christmas carol. The facility's rehab area had been reconfigured for the two-hour open house. It was festooned with pink helium balloons and vases filled with multi-colored flowers. Staff from Sheffield Village and Wade Park were on hand to help guests learn more about their benefits and answer questions.
"I hope women will check us out, and give us a shot to be their provider," Matho said.
According to a fact sheet issued by the VA last November, more than 61,000 women vets live in Ohio. A 2015 report issued by National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics reported 1.9 million American women are veterans. The same report noted that nearly 750,000 were enrolled in VA health care, an increase of 89.3 percent between 2005 and 2015.