Few commercially available prosthetic options available for female veterans with limb loss

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— Government Accountability Office (GAO) Releases Report on Prosthetics for Female Veterans —

 A recent GAO report on female veterans and prosthetic use revealed that, while women are the fastest-growing veteran subpopulation, they only make up about 3% of the veteran amputee population.

The report notes that there are significant differences between male and female patients. For instance, “Male patients are more likely to experience successful fitting of their prosthetics than female patients” given that “the size and weight of prosthetics made for men may be too heavy or oversized for some women.”

The report also showed that 43% percent of women were successfully fit with a lower-limb prosthetic at discharge after amputation compared with 68.6% of men.  And female patients spend more time in rehabilitation and express and experience pain differently than male patients.

The female veteran amputee population receiving care in VA medical facilities grew from 2.3 percent of the total veteran amputee population in 2015 to 2.7 percent of the total veteran amputee population in 2019.

Additional findings include:

  • There is a lack of commercially available prosthetic options VHA providers can use to meet women’s needs.
  • While the proportion of prosthetics the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provided to female veterans has been small compared to the share provided to male veterans, it is growing. This proportion grew from 6.8 percent to 7.9 percent (2015 to 2019)
  • It was difficult for researchers to recruit women for studies, including:
    • Developing smaller mechanical prosthetic fingers;
    • Use of prosthetics for upper limb amputation; and
    • Improving prosthetic footwear options.
  • The report recommends improving research by:
    • Helping fund participant travel;
    • Making the Amputee Data Repository more accessible to researchers; and
    • Using joint Department of Veterans of Affairs (VA)/Department of Defense (DoD) Extremity Trauma and Amputation Center of Excellence (EACE) funding for VHA research.

The report is a result of an initiative started in 2017 by the VHA to make female veteran amputees a national research priority. It examines:

  1. trends in prosthetics provided by the VHA to female veterans;
  2. characteristics of the female veteran population with limb loss and how VHA provides prosthetic services to these veterans through its Amputation System of Care; and
  3. VHA’s research efforts and the challenges that exist in studying prosthetics for female veterans with limb loss1.

“The Amputee Coalition is committed to improving care for female veteran amputees and all people living with limb loss and limb difference,” said Mike Zwolinski, Director of Government Relations for the Amputee Coalition.  “That is why we support the Triple A Study Act (S.4343/H.R.8581), which will identify the best care practices for people living with limb loss and limb difference, including whether female veterans are getting access to prosthetic devices that meet their needs.”

The GAO report is progress. While there is still work to be done, these insights help the Amputee Coalition create better resources and information to meet the needs of female veteran amputees using prosthetics. It helps us help our community.

For more than a decade, the Amputee Coalition has partnered with the VA and DoD to provide peer support and educational materials to military veterans and active-duty service men and women. Our partnerships are comprised of 25 VA Amputation Specialty Centers that provide services and supports to more than 100 VA hospital throughout the U.S., as well as Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center, Extremity and Amputation Center of Excellence, and Naval Medical Center in San Diego. In partnership with the VA, the Amputee Coalition offers a nationally recognized Veteran Certified Peer Visitor (VA CPV) Program and provides opportunities for female veterans impacted by limb loss to meet and build relationships with other veterans while providing meaningful and relatable support. Our Peer Support team collaborates with the VA to train and certify VA Peer Visitor Trainers to teach our VA curriculum and certify VA CPVs to become good listeners and meet veterans and veteran families where they are in their journey with limb loss.

There is great need for women, particularly those who have served our country, to participate in clinical trials that help researchers develop new therapies and devices.  We work not just with the VA but also with our colleagues at the National Institutes of Health, which runs ClinicalTrials.gov. This service allows users to search for clinical trials that might be available in their geographic area or in a topic area that’s of interest to them.

Are you or someone you know a female veteran amputee using a prosthetic device? If so, what challenges do you face? What do you need to improve your life? How can we support your limb loss journey?

We want to hear from you. Please reach out to our National Limb Loss Resource Center (NLLRC) by filling out an online form or giving us a toll-free call at 888-267-5669.

You’ll be able to chat with one of our knowledgeable specialists about your journey and how we can help.

Let’s travel this journey together!


1 VETERANS HEALTH CARE Agency Efforts to Provide and Study Prosthetics for Small but Growing Female Veteran Population