VA reaches historic breakthrough agreement for LA’s homeless Veterans

Olson, McDonald sign agreement

Ron Olson and VA Sec. Bob McDonald sign a historic agreement that dedicates the West LA Medical Center campus to serving Veterans in need. VA photo by Reynaldo Leal.

VA Secretary Bob McDonald and attorneys representing homeless veterans in Los Angeles announced an agreement that dedicates  the West Los Angeles VA campus to serving veterans in need, and commits the department to design a plan to help end homelessness among veterans in Los Angeles County.  The agreement is an important step forward in carrying out President Obama’s commitment that no veteran should live on the streets, or forego necessary medical and psychological services.

“This agreement offers VA a historic opportunity to build new community relationships in Los Angeles and continue the work needed to end veteran homelessness here,” said Secretary McDonald.  “VA is proud of the progress we’ve made in ending veteran homelessness—down 33 percent since 2010—but we won’t be satisfied until every veteran has a home.”

Under the agreement, Secretary McDonald and plaintiffs’ representatives will develop by February 13, 2015, a written plan to help end Veteran homelessness in Greater Los Angeles.  The plan will focus on serving Veterans, particularly homeless Veterans, women Veterans, aging Veterans and Veterans that are severely disabled. Secretary McDonald will appoint a special assistant, who will report directly to him, to oversee the plan’s implementation with the necessary resources and support.

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Counting every Veteran on the way to ending homelessness

Winter Haven Stand

VA Sec. Bob McDonald hands out coats to homeless Veterans at the Washington, DC VA Medical Center on Saturday, January 24. Sec. McDonald and other VA leaders will participate in the nationwide point-in-time homeless count in January and February. VA photo by Robert Turtil.

This week, I am joining volunteers across the country to measure the scope of homelessness in America during the point-in-time (PIT) count.

The PIT counts being performed across the country will provide us with a critical benchmark for knowing how much progress we’ve made so far, but we know we have to continue to push forward urgently to achieve this goal.

The current PIT count shows that VA is making progress toward our goal of ending homelessness among Veterans. On a given night in January 2014, an estimated 49,993 Veterans were without a safe, stable home in the United States – 17,885 homeless Veterans living on the street or other places not meant for human habitation and 32,048 in shelters, transitional housing programs or safe havens. This represents a 33 percent decline in the total number of homeless Veterans since 2010, and includes a nearly 43 percent reduction in Veterans living on the street.

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VA announces single regional framework under MyVA initiative

Internal organizations to realign their existing structures

VA today announced that it is taking the first steps under the MyVA initiative to realign its many organizational maps into one map with five regions to better serve Veterans.

The new regions under the MyVA alignment will allow VA to begin the process of integrating disparate organizational boundaries into a single regional framework to enhance internal coordination.

MyVA Regional Map“We want every Veteran to have a seamless, integrated, and responsive VA customer service experience every time.  This regional alignment is the first step in empowering Veterans to interact with one VA – MyVA,” said Secretary Bob McDonald. “Ultimately, this reform will improve the Veteran experience by enabling Veterans to more easily navigate VA and access their earned care and benefits.”

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On the road: moving toward a VA we can all be proud of

Sec. Bob McDonald recently spoke at the Student Veterans of America (SVA) National Conference in San Antonio, Texas.

While asking student Vets to join the ranks of VA and help create an organization of which everyone can be proud, McDonald laid out his three strategies for moving VA forward – restoring trust, improving service, and setting the course for long-term excellence and reform.

These three strategies are not just marketing slogans for McDonald. Since beginning his tenure as VA secretary with a visit to the Phoenix VA Medical Center, he has traveled to more than 75 other facilities to speak with Veterans and VA employees.

McDonald’s 90-day plan is taking hold and employees have recommitted themselves to I-CARE (Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, Excellence) values.  As he travels, the Secretary places an emphasis on recruiting the best and brightest minds to serve Veterans. Whether speaking to students from Harvard or Duke, or Veterans at the SVA and IAVA conferences, McDonald touts VA as the “best place to work for the best customers in the world.”

Accountability is a high priority for McDonald. Since July, VA has fired more than 1,000 employees for violating their responsibility to serve Veterans and to uphold VA’s I CARE core values.

In all, McDonald’s swift actions over the past seven months are helping the department turn the corner and refocus on putting the mission and customer first.

 

 

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2015 National Veterans Creative Arts Competition underway

The 2015 National Veterans Creative Arts Competition began on January 1st.  During the months of January, February and March, Veterans enrolled at VA medical facilities or outpatient clinics are 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.

Creative Arts paintingWith the involvement of VA staff and volunteers, entries are submitted into the local competition.  There are a total of 51 categories in the visual arts, divided into fine art, applied art and craft kit sub-divisions.  Fine art categories include painting, watercolor, drawing and sculpture.  Applied arts categories such as ceramics, woodworking, metalwork and glasswork and craft kits such as model building, needlework and leatherwork offer a variety of options with something for just about every artist.

Categories such as Special Recognition-Physical Disability, Special Recognition-Mental Health Challenges and Military Combat Experience focus on the concept of the arts as therapy where an individual uses artistic expression to facilitate successful treatment outcomes.  A written narrative from the Veteran or staff person accompanies the entry to describe how the artwork relates to the Veteran’s challenge or experience.  The art division overall has the highest number of entries submitted into competition each year.  In 2014 there were nearly 1,600 entries judged during the month of April in the national competition.

Creative Arts musicThe music division follows the art division in highest number of entries.  Music is divided into vocal and instrumental sub-divisions.  Within the music division there are 45 categories that include both solo and group and the categories are separated according to musical style.  There is a category for everyone, even a band category and original vocal and original instrumental categories.  Judging criteria consists of such areas as stage presence, intonation, rhythm, and interpretation.

Writing is a form of creative expression that has become extremely popular and Veterans are entering their original poems, essays and short stories into the creative writing division at an increasing rate each year.  Creative writing entries are judged by use of language, originality of topic or idea, creative content, message clarity and overall strength of the composition.

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Army Veteran inspires White House with story of resilience

Jason Gibson visits Sec. McDonald

Staff Sgt. Jason Gibson was just three months into his third deployment, when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Afghanistan. Despite the severity of his wounds, he watched as medics frantically tried to stop the bleeding and get him evacuated out of the combat zone.

“I remember everything about that day up until I was loaded up on the helicopter,” he said. “I blacked out after that, and when I woke up I was at Walter Reed.”

A few short weeks later, President Obama visited him at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Washington, D.C.

He recalls being told the president was coming to meet him. When it happened, Gibson, who lost both legs after multiple surgeries, wasn’t sure who the man shaking his hand was – a side effect of the arduous road to recovery and traumatic injuries he sustained.

Jason Gibson

Jason Gibson

“I was in and out – the stuff they had me on stayed in my system for a long time – and even a couple of weeks after first getting to Walter Reed, I wasn’t all there, and that’s when the president came to see me,” Gibson said with a chuckle recalling the 2012 meeting.

But as the fog of treatment settled, he emerged with a clear understanding of who his visitor was. Last fall, after almost two years of recovery, the Westerville, Ohio, native wanted to thank the president for his visit.

“I thought there was so much bad press, and even hate, at that time,” he said. “I wanted to thank him for coming and seeing me, but I also wanted to let him know how far I’d come. He saw me at my worst, those days I couldn’t even move in my bed without help, but I wanted him to remember me by how much I had accomplished.”

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Desert Storm anniversary remembered. What are your stories?

Today marks the anniversary of the start of the Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm. On January 17, 1991, the coalition air campaign began with massive aerial bombings of targets in Iraq and Kuwait.

VA offers a variety of health care benefits to Gulf War Veterans, including a Gulf War Registry health exam and clinical treatment at VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Study Center. See more at: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar/benefits/health-care.asp

VA’s Gulf War Registry Health Exam alerts Veterans to possible long-term health problems that may be related to environmental exposures during their military service. The registry data helps VA understand and respond to these health problems more effectively. See more at: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar/benefits/registry-exam.asp

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Duke Business School students visit with Sec. Bob McDonald

Health Sector Management (HSM) students from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University stopped by VA’s central office in Washington, D.C., last week to speak with Sec. Bob McDonald.

The visit is part of the school’s effort to introduce students to working in the federal government and, according to professor Don Taylor, serves as an opportunity to learn more about the largest integrated healthcare system in the country.

Sec. McDonald, along with Dr. Carolyn Clancy, interim under secretary for health, and Stephen Warren, the executive in charge of information and technology, interacted with the more than 30 students and faculty members in VA’s Omar Bradley conference room. They made a case for business students, such as the visitors from Duke, bringing their skills and education to work for Veterans at VA.

“We wanted [students] to get a chance to meet with the Secretary and other experts who are leading the reform in this system,” Taylor later said. “I think [the Secretary’s] leadership, actually, has a chance to really open up some opportunities for business students who might intuitively or reflexively think government is not [their] thing. But, I think he persuasively made the case that there are chances to do things here that can help the VA, and then probably give them the skills they need when they go on to the private sector.”

Inspired by VA’s mission? Visit www.vacareers.va.gov and learn how you can use your skills to serve Veterans at VA.

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2015 Wheelchair Games registration opens today

WCG logos combinedThe 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games is just around the corner and it is time to register and begin preparing to rip it up in Dallas this summer.

Hosted by the North Texas VA Health Care System and the Lone Star Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the City of Dallas is preparing to welcome the Veterans at the 2015 National Veterans Wheelchair Games, June 21-26, 2015.  Be one of the estimated 600 Veterans to compete in 18 wheelchair sports to challenge yourself and your fellow Veterans while demonstrating to all the spectators that “disability doesn’t mean inability.”

WCG LeftCo-presented by VA and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the National Veterans Wheelchair Games is a rehabilitation and wheelchair sports program empowering Veterans to live more active and healthy lives through wheelchair sports and recreation.  Veterans with a spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, amputation or other neurological injury that uses wheelchair for sport, and are eligible for care in the VA can participate.

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Mobile Vet Center deployed to El Paso, Texas

A Mobile Vet Center outside of Ft. Hood, Texas

Mobile Vet Centers will be on site in El Paso, Texas to provide counseling service. (VA file photo)

VA deployed a Mobile Vet Center and clinical staff today to provide counseling services to Veterans, Servicemembers, families and fellow VA staff members in the wake of Tuesday’s shooting at Ft. Bliss, Texas.

The mobile center is currently located at the El Paso Community College (9050 Viscount St, Building A., El Paso) serving those in need of counseling services through 4:30 p.m. local time today.

With the exception of Sunday, the Mobile Vet Center will operate 8 a.m. through 4:30 p.m., each day through Tuesday at the El Paso VA Health Care System located at 5001 North Piedras Street in El Paso.

The Mobile Vet Center provides:

  • Grief and healing services
  • Individual, group, and family readjustment counseling to Veterans, Servicemembers, and their families
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment and help with other related problems that affect functioning within the family, work, school or other areas of everyday life; and
  • Counseling for Veterans and Servicemembers of both genders, regardless of combat service, who have experienced a military sexual trauma.

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