When we began implementing the VA MISSION Act this past June, we knew it had the potential to make an enormous positive impact for Veterans. Now, more than six months later, we know that that is the case: With the MISSION Act, VA is helping more Veterans access the care and services they need, when and where they need them.
One of the biggest accomplishments we’ve achieved under this law is the launch of a new, consolidated community care program. This program uses simplified eligibility standards that are easier for Veterans, their families, VA staff, and community providers to navigate. Our new network now includes 880,000 community providers across the country.
This program also includes a new urgent care benefit that allows Veterans to seek care for minor injuries and illnesses from urgent care clinics that are a part of VA’s contracted network. Since June 6, 2019, we estimate that our network of community urgent care clinics has provided care to Veterans through more than 140,000 visits.
But improving access to community care is just one piece of the puzzle. Under the MISSION Act, VA is now implementing “anywhere to anywhere” telehealth, meaning we can bring provider expertise across state lines and into Veterans’ own living rooms – meeting them where they are. VA recently announced the delivery of telehealth services to more than 900,000 Veterans over 2.6 million episodes of care in fiscal 2019 – an increase of 17% over the previous year. This extraordinary progress gives Veterans more convenient care options without traveling to their provider’s office.
Looking toward the future
The MISSION Act also enables us to look toward the future, giving us more tools to recruit and retain the best health care providers. This year we launched a new scholarship pilot program for Veterans pursuing a medical education through Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Teague-Cranston institutions. The program will help VA recruit the best talent to our ranks by providing scholarship funding in exchange for a commitment to practice with VA for four years. In 2020, this program will welcome 18 Veteran medical students at nine universities across the country. In the coming years, we will also expand our education debt reduction program and roll out new scholarships for other health professionals who aspire to serve the Veteran community.
The provisions of the MISSION Act stretch out to 2034, and our progress will continue. In the next few months we will enhance secure information sharing with community providers, delivering safer, better-coordinated care for Veterans. We have also stood up a new Innovation Center, intensified focus on underserved facilities, started a pilot program to include Veteran peer support in primary care, and will expand our Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to support Veterans of all eras.
The MISSION Act has augmented VA’s ongoing transformation, and this progress will fuel VA’s leadership of the future of U.S. health care.
Dr. Richard Stone is the executive in charge at the Veterans Health Administration