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Syracuse VA Medical Center expands to provide more services

Ellen Abbott
The waiting room of the Women Veterans Wellness Center at the Syracuse VA hospital.

There’s a special place at Syracuse’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center for female military veterans.

The Syracuse VA has been offering a Women Veterans Wellness Center for over a decade now. The number of female veterans they see in that time has tripled, so earlier this year, they moved into a brand new suite on the hospital’s ninth floor.

A fireplace and serene furnishings offer a kind of spa-like environment for women needing a wide range of care from mental health consultations to gynecological exams.

Medical Director Harminder Grewal says this is also where women come who are victims of military sexual trauma.

“We do have about 30 to 35 percent of military sexual trauma with our patients," Grewal said. "And many of them never disclosed it. The first time they talk about it is to us.”

Grewal says there are several ramifications from this kind of trauma.

“We have had women who have had significant injuries," Grewal explained. "Or military sexual trauma led to other medical issues. They developed anorexia, they developed anemia, they developed depression. So there are a lot of different kinds of medical disorders which can occur as a result of the extreme trauma they go through.”

Grewal says while comprehensive services for female veterans like this are more prevalent than a decade ago, they have only recently become more common system wide.

“I think the sort of recognition of special needs for women veterans was not there at that time," Grewal said. "And now there is more of a recognition, and more of a need for a safe space.”

Still Program Manager Mary La Russa says one of the big issues they have is letting female veterans know it’s available.

"I do outreach at Fort Drum, and many of the transitioning soldiers don’t know this place exits," La Russa said. "So part of the VA’s job in the future is advertising to them that this center is here to use.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.