VA is critical to medicine and Veterans

Sec. Bob McDonald visits Phoenix and Las Vegas VAMC

Sec. Bob McDonald

During preparation for my confirmation as secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA), I was repeatedly asked, “Why doesn’t VA just hand out vouchers allowing veterans to get care wherever they want?” For a department recovering from serious issues involving health care access and scheduling of appointments, that was a legitimate question.

After nine weeks at VA, travel to 31 VA facilities in 15 cities, discussions with hundreds of veterans and VA clinicians, meetings with 75 Members of Congress, two hearings before the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs committees and dozens of meetings with Veterans Service Organizations and other stakeholders, I can answer that question.

Veterans need VA, and many more Americans benefit from VA.

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Every day,  VA doctors see approximately 240,000 patients.

Almost 9 million veterans are enrolled to receive health care from VA — a unique, fully-integrated health care system, the largest in the nation. The VA stands atop a critical triad of support — three pillars that enable holistic health care for our patients: research, leading to advances in medical care; training that’s essential to build and maintain proficiency of care; and delivery of clinical care to help those in need.

VA’s accomplishments on all three pillars and contributions to the practice of medicine are as broad, historically significant and profound as they are generally unrecognized.

VA is affiliated with over 1,800 educational institutions providing powerful teaching and research opportunities. And our research initiatives, outcomes and honors are tremendous. Few understand that VA medical professionals:

•Pioneered and developed modern electronic medical records;

•Developed the implantable cardiac pacemaker;

•Conducted the first successful liver transplants;

•Created the nicotine patch to help smokers quit;

•Crafted artificial limbs that move naturally when stimulated by electrical brain impulses;

•Demonstrated that patients with total paralysis could control robotic arms using only their thoughts — a revolutionary system called “Braingate”;

•Identified genetic risk factors for schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and Werner’s syndrome, among others;

•Applied bar-code software for administering medications to patients — the initiative of a VA nurse;

•Proved that one aspirin a day reduced by half the rate of death and nonfatal heart attacks in patients with unstable angina;

•Received three Nobel Prizes in medicine or physiology; seven prestigious Lasker Awards, presented to people who make major contributions to medical science or public service on behalf of medicine; and two of the eight 2014 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America medals.

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VA researchers often work in tandem with educational institutions to conduct studies and scientific research that betters the lives of all Americans.

No single institution trains more doctors or nurses than VA. More than 70 percent of all U.S. doctors have received training at VA. Each year, VA trains, educates and provides practical experience for 62,000 medical students and residents, 23,000 nurses and 33,000 trainees in other health fields — people who go on to provide health care not just to veterans but to most Americans.

The 278,000 employees of the Veterans Health Administration work in a system spanning all 50 states and beyond, providing — from Maine to Manila — a high volume of quality, clinical care. Our 150 flagship VA Medical Centers are connected to 819 Community-Based Outpatient Clinics, 300 Vet Centers providing readjustment counseling, 135 Community Living Centers, 104 Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Centers, and to mobile medical clinics, mobile Vet Centers and telehealth programs providing care to the most remote veterans.

That network of facilities allows VA to deliver care to veterans from the greatest generation of World War II to the latest generation from Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2013, VA provided over 90 million episodes of care; that’s an average of over 240,000 each day. And since 2004, the American Customer Satisfaction Index survey has consistently shown that veterans receiving inpatient and outpatient care from VA hospitals and clinics give a higher customer satisfaction score, on average, than patients at private sector hospitals.

Finally, VA is uniquely positioned to contribute to the care of veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI), prosthetics, PTSD and other mental health conditions, and the treatment of chronic diseases such as diabetes and hepatitis. The work we do in these areas, as well as many others, produces results and life changing improvements in care for veterans — and for all Americans and people around the world who suffer from these conditions.

Fixing access to VA care is important; we have a plan to do that and are dedicated to implementing it. That process will take time — but it must be done, and we will be successful. Those who fully understand the value of the department in research, training, and clinical care understand that veterans and all Americans need and deserve their VA to continue providing exceptional care to those we serve.

Robert A. McDonald is secretary of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining VA, Secretary McDonald was Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of The Procter & Gamble Company (P&G). During his tenure, P&G was widely recognized for its leader development prowess. An Army veteran, Mr. McDonald served with the 82nd Airborne Division; completed Jungle, Arctic, and Desert Warfare training; and earned the Ranger tab, the Expert Infantryman Badge, and Senior Parachutist wings.

Published today in the Baltimore Sun:http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-va-secretary-20141023-story.html

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VA and Veterans service organizations eye telehealth to improve access

VA  representatives  and Veteran Service Organizations met today to explore the  health care delivery capabilities offered by telehealth to help improve access to care for Veterans.

Sec. Bob McDonald visits Phoenix and Las Vegas VAMC“Today’s demonstration is an important part of our ongoing conversation with our VSO partners in developing the tools that ensure Veterans have access to the quality care and services they have earned,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “Telehealth is rapidly becoming an attractive option, especially for Veterans who do not have a VA health care facility close to home.” In Fiscal year 2014 VA telehealth services served over 690,000 Veterans in over 2 million virtual visits.

The event also included a presentation of the new Clinical Video Telehealth (CVT) scheduling software, which will help streamline how VA employees schedule telehealth appointments and  resources. The CVT scheduling software was rolled out last month as schedulers began training to use the new program.

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VA’s TeleHealth Director, Dr. Shawn Norman, explains the differences between the new Clinical Video Telehealth (CVT) scheduling software and the dated system it replaced. VA Photo by Robert Turtil

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VA to accept Fry Scholarship applications beginning November 3

VA will begin accepting applications by mail beginning Nov. 3 for the Fry Scholarship under newly expanded eligibility criteria that includes surviving spouses. The addition is the latest in a series of VA actions taking in accordance with the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (“Choice Act”).

Part of the Choice Act expanded the Fry Scholarship to include the surviving spouses of Servicemembers who died in the line of duty after Sept. 10, 2001. Prior to this expansion, only children of those who died in the line of duty were eligible for this benefit.

“We can never fully repay the debt we owe to these families who have lost a loved one,” said VA Secretary Robert McDonald. “It is a privilege to provide educational benefits that will make a positive difference in their lives.”

TAPS founder Bonnie Carroll (right) and Malia Fry (middle) present VA Senior Advisor for Veterans employment Royse Cloud with an award recognizing VA for its contribution to education for military survivors.

TAPS founder Bonnie Carroll (right) and Malia Fry (middle) present VA Senior Advisor for Veterans employment Rosye Cloud with an award recognizing VA for its contribution to education for military survivors.

The Fry Scholarship was created to honor Sergeant John David Fry, 28, of Lorena, Texas.

Sergeant Fry had one week left in his tour in Iraq in 2006, when he volunteered to continue working for seven more hours disarming explosive devices, despite having already sustained an injury to his hand. He made the ultimate sacrifice on March 8, 2006, in Anbar province, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated. He left behind a widow and three young children.

The Fry Scholarship will entitle eligible spouses to up to 36 months of the full, 100-percent level of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which includes a tuition-and-fee payment, a monthly housing allowance and stipend for books and supplies. Some spouses currently eligible for or already receiving benefits under the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program may now be eligible for the Fry Scholarship. All surviving spouses eligible for DEA and the Fry Scholarship must make an irrevocable election for terms beginning on or after January 1, 2015.

VA will identify surviving spouses eligible for both programs and send them a letter with comparative information on the benefits available and instructions on how make an election. Information about these two programs is available on VA’s website and the GI Bill website www.benefits.va.gov/gibill. The VA call center (888-GIBILL-1) also will be able to help individuals understand the differences between the two programs.

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors also known as TAPS offers Military Survivor Education Support Services Program in an effort to provide one-on-one counseling to bereaved military families who may be eligible for education benefits.

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SSVF Changes the Future of a Homeless Vet

By DaVaughn Phillips

In a region still recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, employment and housing can be difficult to come by for many Veterans. New Orleans has a high incidence of Veteran homelessness compared to other cities of its size. According to the 2013 Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 11 percent of the city’s homeless individuals are Veterans.

Outreach workers from Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans, the local affiliate of a national human service charity, first located “Mr. H.” living in the library at Loyola University. The 28-year-old Veteran was close to giving up hope on achieving a brighter future for himself and his six children.

Mr. H. (left) with his case manager, DaVaughn Phillips

Mr. H. (left) with his case manager, DaVaughn Phillips

As a case manager, my mission is to advocate for Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) clients, building relationships with individuals and organizations in the city that can connect them with the resources and opportunities they need to get back on their feet. Being able to draw from those networks is vital to finding employment and housing for people like Mr. H. It’s this type of collaboration that is helping to end Veteran homelessness in New Orleans. According to the Interagency Council on Homelessness, Veteran homelessness in New Orleans has decreased by more than 40 percent in the past year alone.

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Meaningful careers for military and Veteran spouses

When it came time to select a keynote speaker to kick off our Career Summit day of professional development, it was a no brainer. Rosye Cloud, the Senior Advisor for Veteran Employment (Veterans Benefits Administration) just gets it. We wish everyone in our community could have been there to hear her insights and lessons learned, but if you missed seeing her in person, you can still read more from her in the most recent issue of NMSN digital magazine. Here are some highlights from her keynote:Supporting the education and career goals of military spouses is essential to maintaining economic competitiveness of military and veteran families in our  All-Volunteer Force (AVF). Events such as the Military Spouse Career Summit help connect American employers to a skilled and ready talent pipeline. Read More »
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Veteran Combat Call Center: If you call, we can help

The VA Combat Call Center, located outside of Denver, Colo., is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week referral service for Veterans, family members and anyone looking to help a Veteran. We also field calls from active-duty members and their family members seeking counseling services with Vet Centers across the country.

If they call, we can help.

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Honor Flight gives Army Air Corps nurse a chance to pay tribute

Honor Flight Austin

The bus carrying Veterans of past conflicts pulled up alongside the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial on Sunday afternoon.  It was the first time a group from the Honor Flight Network had visited the memorial, which had been officially dedicated just a week before.

Army Air Corps nurse Lois Jones

Army Air Corps nurse Lois Jones Crook

The group from Austin, Texas, included 20 Veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Among them was former Army Air Corps nurse Lois Crook. Now 92 years old, Lois was excited to see the new memorial, and have her picture taken in front of a quote from Dwight Eisenhower.

“I took care of them, that’s why I want to see this” Lois told me, not only during the war, but after, as a nurse at her local VA.

But Lois’ story of service is also one of sacrifice. While serving in the Army Air Corps, Lois met and later married Clyde Jones, a pilot.  A 1st Lieutenant at the time, Clyde was killed when his F-84E Thunderjet collided with another plane during a training flight in 1953.

1st LT Clyde Jones

1st LT Clyde Jones

Leslie Jones, Clyde and Lois’ daughter, was four when her father died:  “He was only 29 years old when he flew that day, February 6, 1953. We were living in England and he was stationed at Manston AFB. He had orders for Korea in three days. I have a letter he mailed that day to his family in which he said, ‘I don’t mind going, it’s just that I hate to leave Lois and Leslie for so long.’”

So on Sunday, the Honor Flight Austin moved on from the new memorial to make another stop:  Arlington National Cemetery.  The group witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Lois visits her husband's gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery

Lois visits her husband’s grave site at Arlington National Cemetery

But it was another stop that had special meaning to the lone female Veteran on this flight.  Lois and her fellow Veterans paid their respects graveside to Clyde Ray Jones Jr., an experience the Honor Flight staff described as “humbling.”

Lois Crook, Army Air Corps nurse, is a charter member of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, which is located at Arlington National Cemetery. We honor her service and sacrifice.

 

Archival photos, Arlington National Cemetery photo courtesy of Honor Flight Austin. Main photo by Megan Moloney/VA.

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VA seeking digital service experts

OIT Office Photo_1On the heels of the launch of the United States Digital Service, the Department of Veterans Affairs is looking for highly experienced digital service experts to join a similar VA-based team. VA is currently looking to hire a digital service expert at the GS-15 level to a temporary, two-year appointment to re-design and re-build VA’s most important digital customer interfaces.

“I am pleased to share another exciting opportunity for individuals to support the Department of Veterans Affairs in its mission to serve and care for Veterans,” said Stephen W. Warren, VA’s Chief Information Officer.  This is VA’s second recruitment for experts with the digital services skills necessary to redesign and rebuild VA’s most vital interfaces that link with its customers and stakeholders by using technology approaches drawn from leading American technology companies.

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My name is Bob and “I CARE”

Bob VG CoverSince his confirmation in August, Secretary Bob McDonald has traveled the country to speak with Veterans and VA employees. He’s hit the ground running, and although his schedule is packed with VA facility visits and employee town halls, the eighth Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs took time for a one-on-one Q&A for VA News and VAnguard Magazine.

Reynaldo Leal, VA Public Affairs Specialist:  Thank you. I guess we will start off with what does being Secretary of Veterans Affairs mean to you?

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert (Bob) McDonald:  Well, as I said during my confirmation hearing, to me, being Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, is the ultimate in the high calling to care for the veterans who have served this country, in a sense, the one percent who have worked and defended the 100 percent. To be in a leadership position to be able to make a difference, to accomplish our mission, to serve them is the ultimate in a high calling. It is, in many ways, the culmination of my life.

After 33 years at Procter and Gamble and nine years in the military, four years of West Point, five years as an officer in the Army, it is the opportunity to take everything I have learned in all the countries of the world I have lived in and apply it here to help the U.S. Government, to help America’s veterans. So, it is a great capstone to whatever career or life I have had to date.

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September 2014 Veteran unemployment; Veterans doing better than their civilian counterparts

The September 2014 unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Veterans as a whole are doing slightly better than non-Veterans.

SeptRolling14The 12-month rolling averages show that Veterans and non-Veterans overall are doing better than they were a year ago. Gulf War II Veteran unemployment has decreased 2.283 percent since September 2013.

Compared to last month, Veteran unemployment rates decreased by .9 percent and non-Veteran unemployment rates decreased by .4 percent. Gulf War II Veteran unemployment rates decreased by 1.9 percent, a sharp decline likely attributed to the start of the school season.

Analyze the data yourself at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/resources/unemployment/ Read More »

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