The U..S. Department of Veterans Affairs has had to tackle several issues and concerns in the past 10 years. Everything from wait times, employee culture and morale, infrastructure improvements, and costs associated with these improvements, patient satisfaction, suicides, recruitment and retention of providers and more.
Several Secretary’s have filled the chair at Veterans Affairs Central Office to both pick up where the former left off, or begin a new path with a new agenda.
When looking back upon VA care 10 years ago, I think we can conclude that with all of the people working together in a bureaucratic environment tackling difficult issues, great strides have been made to improve the department and make a positive impact on those who they serve.
As I have stated previously in several of my written opinion pieces, money cannot solve all of our problems. People are the ones who make the decisions on what direction to move in and how to use the appropriated funding.
Congress has done its part to secure funding requested by the department in increments as associated with each line item. The budget has increased significantly over the past 10 years, and more so during the current administration.
Making sure to put taxpayer-funded dollars in the right places where the most assistance is needed will have the most significant impact on how our veterans are served.
VA has increased communication through weekly and biweekly emails about various programs and services available to veterans and their families. The most recent email discussed the new benefit for eligible veterans to shop at commissaries and exchanges on military bases in the United States.
A VA health identification card is needed as the first step to becoming eligible, along with having a specific status such as service connection or purple heart.
Nonetheless, this will hopefully assist with increasing enrollment at VA for patients to receive health care and other benefits. Increasing enrollment may solve some of the challenges VA has set their sights on, including suicides.
Transparent communication through these emails is a great way to inform veterans and families about entitlements as well as any programs and services that have been around for a long while but may not have been advertised well enough.
VA has increased its public, private partnership base more than ever before. Allowing communities and organizations to help deliver the VA mission and vision and provide exemplary services for veterans and families has been a successful driver leading to improved outcomes.
The recent partnership with VA and Wal Mart offering telehealth services at Wal Mart locations across the nation is bound to be successful. This benefit will serve veterans even closer to home. Many other partnerships have been successful, and the VA should provide a list to show the American public who they partner with to increase awareness of these programs and services for veterans and families.
The suicide prevention task force is a work in progress to decide how to make the most positive impacts on veterans without them deciding to take their lives.
Secretary Wilkie has made this one of his biggest priorities under his leadership, and there is nothing more than a leader who is a veteran himself doing everything in his power to make other veterans' lives better. Veterans have so much to offer society; their ideas can make a difference in civilian life.
When civilians who have not served in the military take the time to understand veterans better in the workforce or on the streets, retention and career promotions occur in the workforce, and making friendships on the streets can enhance veteran well-being.
The military culture is unlike any other culture, and if the uniform has not been worn, difficulties in understanding the culture exist. Civilians and veterans collaborating and forming programs across the public and private sectors to exchange ideas for better outcomes is a big step toward reducing the suicide rate.
We also need to keep in mind how many individual communities need to step up their game for purposes of promoting additional programs and services that could result in overcoming mental health concerns.
VA infrastructure is some of the oldest in the nation. New hospitals and clinics have been built, but are not always meeting the agreed-upon cost from the beginning. Community Care has been on the rise but not without concern from others who are against privatization. VA is on the right track to continue partnering with community hospitals and clinics.
They realize that they cannot do everything on their own, or specialize in specific areas of health for that matter. Wait times are also closely monitored, and if exceeding the days set forth by VA and other considerations, community care is approved.
Having this model will not privatize VA and will only strengthen ties between VA and communities so veterans can be better understood.
Vacancies continue to be a concern, as stated by Congress in their recent hearings. VA and the federal government have a hiring process that has not evolved well to accommodate the current workforce. Sending applications on USAJOBS, using their formatted resume, and asking applicants to fill in as many details as possible, along with required standard forms and others, have made this very tedious and frustrating.
Many transitioning service members have commented that regular rejections have become confusing, with many of them being officers and holding master’s degrees. USAJOBS needs to review its model and possibly resort to using of a civilian resume.
This could increase talent in the federal workforce. We are becoming more and more a society of efficiency and best practices; the federal government hiring process needs to follow suit.
These are only some of the many things VA has been doing well. The more they continue realizing the impacts battlefields have on veterans, understanding the populations they serve, partnering with communities and organizations, and listening to users of VA, the more successful they will be in the long term.
Younger veterans have a whole different outlook on health care and innovation, among other topics. Allowing them to be more involved in the decision-making process without resistance can help VA make even more significant strides for those who will take over leadership in the future.
Andrew Vernon is a veteran of the U.S. Army and currently the founder and president of Andrew Vernon & Associates, an organization that provides support services to veterans and their families. He has a Master of Health Administration degree from Columbia University School of Public Health and a Master of Education degree from the University of Maine.