I am grateful to Idahoans who share their views with me about issues or legislation needing congressional attention.  Bob and Carmelita Jones with the Idaho Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and its Auxiliary recently asked that I consider co-sponsoring S. 514, the Deborah Sampson Act.  This legislation, which is also supported by other veterans service organizations, would improve support for women veterans.  Following up on this request, I looked into the issue and the legislative remedy and co-sponsored S. 514. 

  • According to the Idaho Division of Veterans Services (IDVS), of the more than 118,000 veterans in Idaho, an estimated 10,000 are women. 
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports women are the fastest-growing veterans group.  They are approximately 9 percent of the veteran population and projected to rise to 15 percent by 2035.
  • The VA found that the 2017 rate of suicide among women veterans was 2.2 times the rate among non-veteran women.
  • According to the VA’s “Profile of Women Veterans: 2015,” a lower percent of women veterans than men veterans use VA health care.

When introducing S. 514, the bill’s bipartisan sponsors Senators Jon Tester (D-Montana) and John Boozman (R-Arkansas) explained the concern, “Women are the fastest growing group of veterans, but many VA facilities don’t have the ability to provide equitable care or services to women veterans. The Deborah Sampson Act would eliminate barriers to care and services that many women veterans face and would help ensure the VA can address the needs of women veterans who are more likely to face homelessness, unemployment, and go without needed health care.”

We must do all we can to help the VA meet the needs of this growing population of our country’s veterans.  A bipartisan group of 55 senators, including fellow Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and I, co-sponsored S. 514 that would increase the number of gender-specific providers in VA facilities, enhance privacy for women veterans within VA facilities, establish an Office of Women’s Health at the VA and improve the quality of care for infant children of women veterans.  The legislation would also improve the collection and analysis of data regarding women veterans that can better enable ensuring VA services adequately support their service.

The legislation is named for Deborah Sampson.  National Women’s History Museum historians write, “Deborah Sampson became a hero of the American Revolution when she disguised herself as a man and joined the Patriot forces. She was the only woman to earn a full military pension for participation in the Revolutionary army.”

In September, the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs amended S. 514 and reported it out of committee.  The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed similar legislation, H.R. 3224.  I look forward to enactment of this important legislation that will better support the Idaho women veterans who are among our state’s enduring strengths, and I encourage Idaho veterans and all Idahoans to continue to contact me to share your views on issues of importance to you.  I am grateful for your input. 

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