These include, but are not limited to heart disease, cancers, sexually transmitted diseases, environmental health hazards, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, in the last few years, PTSD, hypertension and depression were the top three health issues for American Women Veterans. .
Heart disease in the number one cause of death in American women today, but is the least discussed. It develops when the blood vessels or arteries that supply blood to the heart and brain become clogged from a buildup of cells, fat and cholesterol. One in two women or 44.4 percent will die of heart disease and stroke, compared to 1 in 27 who will die of breast cancer. In addition, post-menopausal women are more likely to have a heart attack than women who are not post-menopausal.
Women should be aware of their family history for certain conditions that can increase their risk for cancer. Other factors increase with age or lifestyle habits such as diet, drinking and smoking. Women should discuss these risks with their health care provider, and seek additional information for these diseases. The cancers that most often affect women are: Breast, Lung, Colorectal, Endometrial, Ovarian and Cervical.
Breast cancer is the primary cause of cancer-related deaths among American women. The VA offers screening for all types of cancers, including mammography and PAP tests. All women should have a gynecological exam each year, including a PAP test. Women over the age of 40 should get a regular mammogram and women over the age of 50 should receive a mammogram annually. For early detection, breast self-examinations should be done monthly.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Women who have been raped, have had unprotected sex, or are intravenous drug users are susceptible to being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or HIV/AIDS. VA operates and HIV/AIDS program that can help female veterans manage the control their disease.
Environmental Health Hazards
Veterans who served in a combat zone may develop illnesses related to environmental exposures, such as Agent Orange, depleted uranium and combustion products. The VA has conducted specialized studying on female Vietnam War and Gulf War veterans to ascertain the effects of various environmental exposures on their reproductive health. The VA also offers an environment health registry programs (Agent Orange, Ionizing Radiation, Gulf War/Iraqi Freedom, Project 112/SHAD). Female veterans who are eligible for any of these programs are encourage to contact the Environmental Health Coordinators at a participating VA medical center to arrange for their free, thorough registry examination.
Alcohol and drugs often times become a coping mechanism when stress, depression and anxiety build. Studies show individuals who grow up in an addictive environment are predisposed to becoming addicted themselves.
Women veterans are less at risk for substance abuse disorders than their male counterparts are, but VA has inpatient and outpatient substance abuse programs that are available for women. There is a Woman’s Addictive Disorder Unit at the VA Medical Center in Cleveland where female veterans can be referred. TRICARE also offers eight sessions a year for addiction counseling with a co-payment.