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Program Focuses on Women Service Members' Health

Image of Program Focuses on Women Service Members Health. U.S. Public Health Service Rear Adm. Tracy Farrill, interim director of Defense Health Network Continental, was the keynote speaker for the inaugural “Serving in Strength: Health and Wellness Series,” sponsored by the Military Women’s Memorial on Feb. 29, 2024. The memorial is located at the entrance of the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo: Robbie Hammer, MHS Communications)

Heart health was the topic of the day for the first program in a series titled, “Serving in Strength: Health and Wellness Series,” sponsored by the Military Women’s Memorial on Feb. 29, 2024.

The series is a comprehensive program designed to address the unique health needs of military women through educational events in 2024, according to the Military Women’s Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.

Representatives from the Defense Health Agency included U.S. Public Health Service Rear Adm. Tracy Farrill, interim director of Defense Health Network Continental, and U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Deydre Teyhen, director of Defense Health Network National Capital Region. They were the keynote speakers for the inaugural event.

“Some of you probably have misperceptions of heart health and who it affects, how it affects them, and who is truly at risk for heart health,” said Farrill. “When I look at this room, I'm quite certain, each one of us, if not personally, has been affected by heart disease or has a close family member that's been affected by heart disease. I personally have with my grandmother and my mother having both fallen prey to heart disease.”

Panelists shared personal stories of getting doctors to listen to their cardiac health concerns and emphasized that women need to know the signs of a heart attack, as they can differ from men, and health care providers may miss this. One panelist said advocating for oneself is vitally important.

“Patients who can advocate for themselves have better outcomes,” said Dr. Sharon Bannister, board member of the Military Women’s Memorial, and a retired U.S. Air Force major general.

Farrill talked about how women’s health among female service members is a priority to the DHA.

“We have a responsibility. We take care of beneficiaries from infancy to end of life. We provide care for that whole spectrum,” said Farrill. “We are consumers of the Military Health System for uniform, and our family members … you see women in all facets of military life.”

She talked about how women service members not only have a responsibility to their careers but are also wives and mothers that have a tremendous responsibility to their families and in keeping them healthy.

“You're asked to fill multiple roles, and not just your day job,” said Farrill. “As leaders in government, you must balance that. But then when you go home, you take those hats off, and put on another hat when you must take care of your family. You make specific decisions for your family.”

She added, “We do things in the Department of Defense to make sure that the women that are serving our military and all our beneficiaries are cared for … we're responsible for maintaining their readiness. And that means that they are fit to fight, they are ready to walk out the door at a moment's notice to defend our nation, and that's a priority.”

Loneliness and Sleep Can Be A Factor in Women’s Health

The panelists also discussed loneliness as being detrimental to one’s health and can lead to depression, and those who are lonely are less likely to reach out for other health conditions. One of the panelists said reaching out to a community--even a virtual one—is a good way of connecting with people.

“The U.S. Surgeon General said that loneliness should be viewed as an epidemic,” said Teyhen. “Loneliness and isolation are at epidemic rates in our country, and it kills. Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

The lack of sleep was also mentioned being important to a healthy lifestyle, especially within military life.

Teyhen encouraged attendees to reach out to a health care provider to help them on their journey to better health, saying, “what matters is that you are willing to take that first step. Small changes make a big difference. What will be your first step towards better health?”

The Military Women’s Memorial honors and tells the stories of women, past and present, who serve our nation. Through this series of programs, the Military Women’s Memorial convenes leaders and practitioners from the government, academia, industry, and civil society to empower and support servicewomen and women veterans in achieving optimal physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

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Last Updated: March 22, 2024
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