The Air Force Women’s Initiative team is making multiple efforts to overcome obstacles through policy change. Members of the WIT Women’s Specialized Health Care Programs have a vision to create an Air Force health care system that strengthens high quality care for women.
“Our goal is to remove barriers so that it is easier for women to continue serving in our Air Force,” said Lt. Col. Jeanette Anderson, Perinatal Nursing Consultant with the US Air Force. General surgeon. “If we can provide the support they need from a health perspective, then we can make sure they can stay in the air force and are medically ready. “
According to Maj.Emily Yates, co-lead of WIT and healthcare integrator with the 633rd Medical Group at Langley-Eustis Joint Base, the work of his team is crucial for retention.
“We have found that one of the reasons women leave the Air Force has to do with medical barriers,” Yates said. “Through our health focused line of effort, we are working to strengthen a health care system that meets the needs of our Airmen.”
Over the past year, WIT’s specialist health care programs for women have resulted in several policy changes. In February, standard hair policies were modified based on feedback received from aviators who identified numerous health issues around the bun.
“The WIT conducted surveys, interviews and other background data and we found that women suffered from headaches, hair cysts and hair loss due to hair policies,” said Sgt. chief. Johnathon Lind, Department of Air Force Barrier Analysis Working Group for WIT. “We also learned from Veterans Affairs Canada that 40% of hair problems are from women, but women are only 20% of the strength. We knew we needed to update our hair policies.
“It was through WIT that we were able to gain support from other Air Force entities, major commands and squadron leaders. We informed the Air Force Chief of Staff General CQ Brown, Jr., and Air Force Chief Staff Sergeant Joanne S. Bass on the proposed changes.
Read more: Air Force allows longer braids, ponytails and bangs for women
Another initiative carried out by this team is breastfeeding accommodation for Air Force members and civilian employees.
“Finalized this summer, this policy change allows those returning to work after childbirth to have appropriate accommodation to express their milk while they are at work so that they can both feed their babies and maintain their health, ”Anderson said.
Read more: Air Force improves lactation support for nursing mothers
The U.S. Air Force has also updated its recovery leave policy for Airmen and Guardians who experience miscarriage or stillbirth, giving them time to heal and recover.
With this policy update, as noted in Air Force Manual 41-210, there will be standardized convalescent leave, separate from parental leave policies, for service members who experience perinatal loss. This change provides a critical update to support women who are not eligible for parental leave.
“Before that, women would only be entitled to parental leave if they had a qualifying birth event, which means they delivered a baby and brought it home with them,” said the Lieutenant-Colonel Larissa Weir, chief consultant for women’s health at the Air Force Surgeon General. “But for women who have experienced a loss, we have seen a significant variation in the length of leave they have received. We have prepared this update to standardize this leave based on the progress of the pregnancy. “
Specifically, this policy grants up to 42 days of leave depending on the gestational age of the woman and any additional recommendations from the health care provider. The policy also includes Airmen and Guardians who decide to place their baby for adoption immediately after birth.
WIT is made up entirely of volunteers of varying ranks and backgrounds who are determined to create the necessary policy changes that remove barriers to service. For Lind, women’s health issues are not just a women’s issue and should be something the entire Air Force should be involved in.
“WIT is not just for women and I try to be an example of that,” Lind said. “Any problem they have is also my problem. That’s what drives me to be part of this team. When you are a minority population within a group, it can be difficult to make the necessary changes, so it is important that we bring the whole team together to resolve these issues.
For those interested in joining the WIT, more information can be found on the activated common access card WIT Air Force Portal Page.