Here are 19 reasons why VA not only turned the corner on last year’s crisis, but is moving forward to better serve Veterans.
1. Increasing Veterans’ access to health care appointments
In June 2015, VA completed 97 percent of appointments within 30 days of the Veteran’s preferred date, 93 percent within 14 days; 88 percent within 7 days. VA has completed 12 million same-day appointments, which is 20 percent of VA’s total appointments per year. VA also increased VA authorizations for care in the community, including the Choice Program, by 44 percent.
2. Increasing transparency and accountability
VA began publicly posting patient access data online in June 2014. VA provides this access-to-care information to Veterans and the public knowing that transparency and accountability would help improve care for Veterans over time. Regularly updated patient access data is available for all VA medical centers and community-based outpatient clinics including average wait times, number of patients waiting for a scheduled appointment and number of patients that cannot be scheduled for an appointment in 90 days or less. Both completed and pending appointment data is available.
3. Improving customer service Veterans proud to call VA their own
VA continues its work to reorganize the department for success, guided by ideas and initiatives from Veterans, employees, and all of our shareholders. This reorganization is part of the MyVA initiative and is designed to provide Veterans with a seamless, integrated and responsive customer service experience. The MyVA Implementation Plan serves as a framework for achieving this transformation.
4. Training the nation’s health care providers
Whether you receive care in VA or not, there is a good chance that your healthcare provider received at least some of their clinical training in the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA trains 120,000 healthcare professionals per year, more than any system in the nation. An estimated 70 percent of all U.S. doctors have trained with VA.
This expansion, which primarily pertains to Reservists and National Guard members participating in weekend drill, gives the authority to offer Veterans the appropriate care and services needed to treat conditions resulting from MST that occurred during a period of inactive duty training.
“VA simply must be an organization that provides comprehensive care for all Veterans dealing with the effects of military sexual trauma,” Sec. Bob McDonald said. “Our range of services for MST-related experiences is constantly being reexamined to best meet the needs of our Veterans.”
6. Ending the claims backlog
The claims backlog has been reduced from peak of 611,000 in March 2013 to 110,025 this week, an 82 percent reduction in 28 months. Claim-level accuracy increased from 83 percent in 2011 to 91 percent – issue-level accuracy is 96 percent.
Editor’s note: As of Oct. 3, the number of claims awaiting a decision for more than 125 days is down to 72,623.
Source: VBA Monday Morning Workload Report
7. Working with state and local partners to end homelessness among Veterans
In the past year, the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, launched by First Lady Michelle Obama, has proven to be a game-changer as more than 700 local elected leaders have signed on to take action. States and local communities, such as New Orleans, are working with local Veterans Affairs offices to identify gaps in resources and driving the efforts to fill those gaps. These partnerships work. Since the 2010 rollout of the first-ever federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness and the January 2014 point-in-time homeless count, homelessness among Veterans nationwide has been slashed by one-third.
Ron Olson and VA Sec. Bob McDonald sign a historic agreement that dedicates the West LA Medical Center campus to serving Veterans in need
8. Helping the fastest growing group of Veterans — women.
VA Women’s Health Research Network (WHRN) is designed to increase inclusion of women Veterans in VA research, making sure women equitably benefit from VA’s investment in health care research. WHRN educates researchers about methods for including women, analyzing study results by gender and making it easier to recruit women.
9. Recruiting and hiring to provide more access to care for Veterans
VA has increased recruiting and hiring, bringing on more than 41,000 new employees over the last year with a net increase of over 12,000 medical professionals – a 4.15 percent increase. This includes 1,170 physicians, 4,113 nurses and 4,661 other select critical occupations.
During fiscal year 2015, nearly 3,400 VA researchers will work on more than 2,200 projects, with funding of more than $1.8 billion. One research study at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa is looking into therapies to halt and possibly reverse Alzheimer’s progression. Another study focuses on whether mild traumatic brain injury, or TBI, may cause early brain aging.
Dr. Chad Dickey and his team study Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative conditions.
11. Making a difference through volunteering
Sec. Bob McDonald launched VA’s Summer of Service volunteer initiative to “[turn] the spotlight on VA volunteers to thank them for the work they do and to show others how they can help as well,”
Community by community, state by state, VA invited the public to work together to serve Veterans. And they did. Volunteers are spending time at VA facilities and serving Veterans are making a difference.
12. Ending MRSA in VA healthcare facilities
In comparison to other hospital systems, VA is making great strides in reducing one of the most significant causes of healthcare-associated infections — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Within five years, healthcare-associated MRSA infections declined 69 percent in VA
13. Redefining the mission for disabled Veterans
VA funds $8 million in grants for adaptive sports. Grants are available to non-federal entities with experience in managing a large-scale adaptive sports program for persons with certain disabilities. The grants call for planning, developing, managing and implementing appropriate adaptive sports activities geared to disabled Veterans and Servicemembers. Adaptive sports are those that have been adapted or created specifically for people with disabilities.
14. Leading the way in mobile medicine, telehealth
Last year, VA launched several pilots of secure mobile applications to help Veterans, caregivers and VA clinical teams provide unprecedented opportunities and become active partners in health care through mobile technology. The driving force behind those initiatives is VA’s co-director of Connected Health, Kathleen L. Frisbee, MPH, Ph.D., who was named as one of the Top-10 influential women in health IT by FierceHealthIT for 2014.
VA is also national leader in telehealth services, which are critical to expanding access to VA care. Veterans use telehealth. At the end of FY2014, 12.7 percent of all Veterans enrolled for VA care received telehealth-based care. That’s over 2 million telehealth visits, touching 700,000 Veterans.
15. Changing lives through the GI Bill
For more than 70 years, VA has made the transition from service to society easier for Veterans through the GI Bill. Over 21 million home loans have been guaranteed by VA since 1944 as part of the original “GI Bill.”
Since the inception of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2009, more than $50 billion has been paid to more than 1.4 million Veterans and their dependents. In FY14, VA guaranteed 440,000 home loans totaling $100 billion, while also helping 80,000 Veterans avoid foreclosure, saving taxpayers over $2.7 billion. VA has maintained the lowest foreclosure rate (1.4 percent) in the industry for 25 of the last 27 consecutive quarters when compared to all other types of home loans.
One of the newest GI Bill benefits, the Fry Scholarship, was expanded this year under the Choice Act to serve spouses of fallen Servicemembers and processed nearly 4,000 applications in just the first eight months
16. Reaching out to Veterans in the community, on the road
VA’s 300 Vet Centers provide community-based counseling and a wide range of social and psychological services including professional readjustment counseling to Veterans and active duty Servicemembers (including members of the National Guard and Reserve components) and their families. The important work Vet Centers do was highlighted this spring by the White House’s Joining Forces initiative.
If a Veteran can’t get to a Vet Center, it’s possible a Mobile Vet Center, can get to them. These RV-style mobile clinics provide Veterans with vital, on-the-spot treatment and resources.
VA deployed a Mobile Vet Center and clinical staff in January to provide counseling services to Veterans, Servicemembers, families and fellow VA staff members in the wake of a shooting at Ft. Bliss, Texas.
17. Using cutting-edge, personalized innovations to help Veterans
The Functional Electrical Stimulation Hand Glove 200 is a prototype device that incorporates both active functional electrical stimulation and passive robotic bio-mechanic movement. This combination is the first of its kind in hand and upper extremity rehabilitation. The Hand Glove actually allows the user to complete a full-length therapy session in spite of early muscle exhaustion. This may provide more rapid gain in strength and functional muscle mass.
The VA Innovation Creation Series aims to accelerate the development of personalized technologies to improve care and quality of life for Veterans. Recently, the VA Center for Innovation held its first ever “make-a-thon” at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va. At the event, Veterans explained everyday problems they face with missing limbs. The makers – students and engineers – then spent two days brainstorming design ideas and using 3D printers to manufacture prototypes in a competition. The results were “game-changing.”
18. Giving Veterans an artistic outlet at National Veterans Creative Arts Competition
The 2015 National Veterans Creative Arts Competition began on Jan. 1. During the months of January, February and March, Veterans enrolled at VA medical facilities or outpatient clinics were invited to enter their art, music, dance, drama and creative writing entries into the local competition phase. It’s an exciting time with art exhibits and performances by Veterans occurring across the country. At most facilities, the general public is invited to view the art and watch the performances, having the opportunity to learn about the arts as therapy and congratulate the Veterans for their artistic achievements.
19. Continuing to change Veterans’ lives through research
Bauman and Spungen’s research focused on understanding the effects spinal cord injuries have on the human body. Eventually, they were able to attribute illnesses, like increased heart disease and asthma-like lung conditions, to high levels of paralysis. Once they were able to find the root causes of the conditions affecting their patients, Bauman and Spungen were able to create treatment plans for Veterans across VA’s healthcare system.