Sep 29, 2023 - Health

Veterans to get extended postpartum care services

Illustration of military camouflage with patterns in the shape of reaching hands

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Pregnant veterans will soon have vastly expanded access to so-called maternity care coordinators who provide a range of supportive services, the Department of Veterans Affairs told Axios first.

Why it matters: The announcement is part of the Biden administration's efforts to tackle the country's maternal health crisis and seeks to help a population that may be at heightened risk of pregnancy complications.

Catch up quick: Starting Oct. 1, maternity care coordinators will be available to veterans a full year after birth, up from eight weeks currently.

  • Since 2012, these coordinators have helped veterans navigate care both inside and outside of the VA system.
  • Coordinators help connect people to community resources and care, offer support after pregnancy loss and answer medical billing questions. Veterans can receive coordinator services as soon as they have a positive pregnancy test, according to a department spokesperson.
  • Coordinators touch base with veterans every three months throughout the pregnancy. The new expansion extends the scheduled contacts for another twelve months after delivery.
  • Postpartum care is crucial: More than half of pregnancy-related deaths happen between one day and one year after giving birth. About 1 in 8 happen after six weeks postpartum, according to a 2019 study.

By the numbers: Pregnancies among women using VA care reached 12,524 in 2022, up more than 80% since 2014.

  • In 2015, the maternity care coordinator program served 957 pregnant veterans.

What they're saying: "Extending postpartum care coordination up to one year allows VA maternity care coordinators the ability to double the amount of contact with their patients," Sally Haskell, acting chief officer for the VA Office of Women's Health, said in a statement.

  • The extended service could especially help veterans living in areas lacking sufficient maternity care resources, a VA spokesperson noted.
  • March of Dimes has classified 36% of counties as maternity care deserts.

Context: A two-year-old law aimed at supporting pregnant veterans included $15 million for maternity care coordinators.

  • The law, known as the Protecting Moms Who Served Act, also required the government to conduct a comprehensive study of pregnancy complications among women veterans.
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