Women play a growing role in the military -- they now make up 14 percent of those on active duty and almost eight percent of the veteran population.
San Diego has more veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan than any other region in California.
KPBS reporter Alison St John says the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Diego is going though a cultural shift to adapt to the needs of its new patients.
Alison St. John: The corridors of the VA Medical center in La Jolla are always busy, but one thing has changed recently.
Jennifer Roberts: Now, because of the increase in women, they're not such a rarity here.
St. John: Jennifer Roberts is the Medical Center's first full-time program manager for women vets.
Every VA hospital now has one -- thanks to a Congressional mandate passed in 2009 -- to deal with the growing number of women veterans.
Roberts: When you see a woman walking in the hall, you don't just assume that they're a caregiver, they could be the veteran themselves.
St. John: Roberts says 25 percent more women vets come to the VA Medical Center now than two years ago.
One of them is Kate Raggazino, a former Marine who served 12 years and left the Corps as a staff sergeant.
Pictured right, Kate Raggazino poses with her dog, trained to help her remember to take her medicine. (Photo: Alison St. John/KQED)
She says when she was discharged several years ago, she had to fight to get the VA to recognize her health care needs.
Kate Raggazino: They just weren't equipped, they weren't prepared for the amount of people that were coming home, let alone a female, you know, they just didn't know how to deal with it.
Women have specific needs that have to be met.
St. John: The VA has started special training for doctors. Jennifer Roberts says doctors lose their skills in treating women after years seeing almost exclusively men.
Roberts: They may not be as experienced at doing pelvic exams or breast exams.
St. John: The VA is offering mini-residency programs in several states focused on women's health, but so far, no male doctor from the VA Medical Center in San Diego has volunteered to go.
Dr Kali Hose attended one in New Mexico. She says even she needed to brush up on her skills to treat women's physical problems.
But what the training really taught her was the need for better help for women vets struggling with psychological trauma.
Dr. Kali Hose: Used to be that you would have a group for depression and it would be a bunch of male patients and one female patient who had to attend, and it wasn't very comfortable for them.
St. John: Hose says the reason women couldn't open up in sessions that include men, is because women's psychological wounds are often connected to what is being called "Military Sexual Trauma;" that is, rape, assault or sexual harassment from fellow service members.
Danielle Jackson served in Iraq in the first Desert Storm but she didn't come to the VA hospital for health care until recently.
She says she suffered sexual abuse while she was deployed in the 1990s and, she says, pretty much every woman veteran she knows went through similar ordeals.
Jackson says her superiors didn't want to hear about it at the time.
Danielle Jackson: It was chronic and you know, I would go and report it and it was horrific because you were this person that turned on the family.
And the other guy had a wife and now you've destroyed his family, so I just learned to shut up.
St. John: Danielle Jackson says for years afterward, she suffered from nightmares, anxiety and depression.
Now, 20 years later, her doctor at the VA hospital is encouraging her to deal with the issues around the sexual trauma by going for counseling.
Jackson: The whole policy to me has changed, and now at least they are acknowledging the fact that it's a problem.
St. John: Jackson has visited the new VA Women's Clinic in Mission Valley.
But like thousands of other women vets, she is still hesitating to take the help for her psychological wounds.
Jackson: I haven't had the courage!
I walked in and there weren't a lot of people and I talked to the woman behind the counter and that was exactly what she said.
She said she was hoping this next generation -- or the women who are serving now -- that we have so many obstacles to overcome to have the courage to walk in, because of what we experienced before if we did tell anybody.
So we're hoping that the newer kids can actually show us how to be brave enough to walk in and talk about it.
St. John: The new generation of women veterans may open the door for previous generations who were so much in the minority they couldn't ask for the help they needed.
With the new clinic for women and better training for doctors, the VA is beginning to deal with not only the physical, but also the psychological wounds of a growing influx of women.