“A national embarrassment” is what the media stated back in 2013; months before the debacles of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), specifically the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) were officially announced and the Department under fire. Delays in treatment resulting in deaths totaling close to 40 veterans was announced by CNN on April 30th of this year. This tragedy was followed by investigations resulting in firings, resignations, and new legislation geared to curb this horrendous problem affecting those who gave their lives for us.
Where we do we stand today now that the bar of accountability has been raised for the VHA, as well as the VA as a whole? Are vets still experiencing deadly wait times? Is the 14 day goal to provide care to newly enrolled veterans attainable? What about the astronomical numbers of veterans from both historical and current wars desperately needing assistance from the VA? So early in the game, only time will tell what the future holds.
In June, CNN reported the results of an internal VA audit that stated that tens of thousands of newly returning veterans wait at least 90 days before receiving any sort of medical care. For those veterans initiating the process 10 years prior – they never got an immediate appointment. Obviously, this is not acceptable. Changes are on the way. In fact, we are seeing a faster “turn-around” within the claims process. What used to take years is now taking months. The ideal would be having results in weeks as opposed to months or years.
In order to bring this goal to fruition, the VA is making major modifications within the culture of its Agency that include a revamping of the upper level executive structure. This includes both hiring and firing of senior level executives. Part of the “re-structuring” of the VA is to create a new customer service bureau to help train employees to focus on customer satisfaction; making the VA more accountable to the millions of veterans being served or needing to be served. In addition, a structural overhaul to consolidate the many functions of the Department to a small number of Regional Offices is on tap.
These moves are a major effort by the Department’s new secretary, Robert A. McDonald. Is this too little, too late? With more doctors filling staffing shortfalls, as well as a push to increase other necessary personnel, no veteran should have to wait to receive their well-deserved earned benefits. If change does occur within the VA as promised by the Obama administration and Secretary Robert McDonald, there is great promise and hope for the future for all our veterans.