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Program goes virtual to help women veterans tackle healthcare

A participant of the Women’s Health Transition Assistance Program, takes notes during a tour of the Women’s Center at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, Tampa, Fla., July 31, 2018. The hospital visit was part of a pilot program series to display the range of women’s health and mental health care services available post-separation.

A participant of the Women’s Health Transition Assistance Program, takes notes during a tour of the Women’s Center at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, Tampa, Fla., July 31, 2018. The hospital visit was part of a pilot program series to display the range of women’s health and mental health care services available post-separation.

ARLINGTON, Virginia --

Making the leap from the military to civilian life is downright daunting for any active duty service member — and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has added new challenges. But one program is surging forward in 2020 to tackle the issue for a particular group of veterans.

It's called the Women's Health Transition Training Program, or WHTT, and it's a Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense joint program led by women veterans to help women manage their health care as they transition out of the military.

Specifically, WHTT provides information to participants about how VA's health care system addresses the needs of women, encourages transitioning servicewomen to use the VA for future health care, and addresses concerns about navigating the non-military healthcare system.

Rachel Johnston, the communications lead for the program, said it started as a pilot initiative in 2018 before it morphed into the VA-DOD partnership. This year, it expanded nationally to all five branches of the armed forces.

Because of COVID-19, WHTT is 100 percent virtual for now. But before the pilot phase ended in December 2019, a total of 670 transitioning servicewomen participated in 74 in-person training sessions at 19 military bases and other locations. The virtual classroom option launched last year — a good thing considering what was to come in 2020 with the coronavirus outbreak.

Johnston said the program has so far trained around 700 women in 2020, and as more women have learned of the resources available, enrollment has continued to increase.

Initially, the program was meant to be a supplementary training program to the mandatory VA TAP, or Transition Assistance Program. Today, the program has gone further, hosting trainings twice per day, five days per week.

The training was developed for women because they face additional health-related challenges compared to their male counterparts.

"It's not just about women's reproductive health services," Johnston said. "The program also talks about muscular-skeletal issues that face women because of improper uniforms and equipment. They have to wear improperly sized boots or uniforms that cause back and joint issues."

When the training is in person, it includes a tour of a veterans' medical center or a community-based outpatient clinic, as well as three hours of classroom instruction to go through a curriculum. But because of the pandemic, the program has been online, featuring videos of medical centers and clinics as well as information on what they'll experience when they transition to civilian life.

Capt. Najuma Pemberton, who went through the program in September at Fort Hood, Texas, said she was glad to have a transition training program that was tailored to information she needed.

"Usually when you do transition classes, you get thrown a lot of info on the VA," she said. "When I saw this webinar was available, I was very interested that it was from a woman's perspective. It didn't seem like it would be the same approach or process."

Pemberton is retiring soon and was grateful for the useful info provided by the program.

"What I appreciated the most about the breakdown is I felt a lot more empowered based on my options, especially from a health care standpoint and how to move forward post-retirement," she said. "That was a real eye-opener for me."

In 2020, WHTT is holding more than 200 training sessions spanning the United States as well as locations in Germany and Japan. By the end of the year, the program hopes to reach 800 women.

Women can register for training by visiting www.va.gov/womenvet/whtt/.