21 reasons why VA is heading in the right direction for 2015

2014 was a roller coaster year for VA. The early months of 2014, saw VA chugging upward hacking away at the claims backlog, improving access for mental health care, home loans and providing record benefits to Veterans and their family members.  In March, the Department celebrated 25 years as a cabinet-level agency.

But in May, the Phoenix scandal overshadowed all of those accomplishments. Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson took the helm and immediately ordered for VA to come clean, providing full disclosure to the public about any and all discrepancies it uncovered.

Secretary Bob McDonald continued that level of transparency and began a push to regain the trust of Veterans – visiting with Veterans from coast-to-coast – listening to their needs, their complaints and their ideas for improvement. He orders accountability and immediate action and, through our MyVA initiative, is helping VA work to ensure Veterans are in control of how, when and where they want to be served.

The VA’s biggest success of 2014 may arguably be the wakeup call that is leading the much needed change well into the new year; however, we cannot overlook what was accomplished by the vast majority of employees and volunteers that embody VA’s I CARE core values and their sense of duty to our nation’s Veterans.  Their top accomplishments follow:

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Top Veteran tweets of 2014

This year, @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter gained 50,000 followers, tweeted more than 5,000 times and was mentioned more than 125,000 times. We also answered hundreds of questions along with other Veteran Service Organizations using #VetQ. Thanks for the conversation and remember we are just a Tweet away!

Here are the top tweets of 2014.

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Top Veteran Instagram pictures of 2014

Instagram is VA’s newest digital platform and it serves to capture personal moments of our Veteran community. While we started publishing later in 2014, there were plenty of events and moments for us to share. Some of our favorite photos included those from Honor Flights, Memorial Day, the 70th anniversary of D-Day and Veterans Day.

Below are the Top 5 @deptvetaffairs photos from 2014:

Number 5

Dan Burke of the 2nd ID 3rd SBCT 1-23 Inf. B Co. celebrates Turkey Day 2009 in Iraq. Photo by Nathan Marques. #HonoringVets

A photo posted by Department of Veterans Affairs (@deptvetaffairs) on

Number 4

Clarence Heidemann was in the Marine Corps and stationed on Oahu 73 years ago today. #honoringVets #honorflight #wwiimemorial

A photo posted by Department of Veterans Affairs (@deptvetaffairs) on

Number 3

A wreath is placed on the tomb of an unknown U.S. Soldier at the Alexandria National Cemetery in Virginia #honoringVets

A photo posted by Department of Veterans Affairs (@deptvetaffairs) on

Number 2

Family and friends find their Servicemember's name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

A photo posted by Department of Veterans Affairs (@deptvetaffairs) on

Number 1

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Veterans celebrate Christmas in every clime and place

Veterans from all generations are connected by selfless service, sacrifice and the belief that they are protecting something greater than themselves. No matter where they are sent, they bring their traditions with them, and Christmas is no exception.

World War I

Christmas mail arrives at Bruvans, France, 1917 much to the joy and happiness of the U.S. servicemen

Christmas mail arrives at Bruvans, France, 1917 much to the joy and happiness of the U.S. servicemen

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A message from the Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze, 1851.

Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze, 1851.

Happy Holidays 2014

On Christmas Eve 1776, General George Washington convened his commanders and staff to finalize a bold plan under desperate circumstances—crossing the ice-clogged Delaware River to mount a surprise attack on Hessian troops warmly encamped at Trenton, New Jersey.

Many of Washington’s troops were ill, low on food, and poorly clothed.  But within 48 hours, they made the daring crossing and soundly defeated the unwary Hessians, capturing most of them.  It was the brilliant stroke that Washington had been waiting for, and it tipped the scales in our War for Independence.

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70 years later, Veterans share their stories from the Battle of the Bulge

 

Early on the misty winter morning of 16 December 1944, over 200,000 German troops and nearly 1,000 tanks launched Adolf Hitler’s last bid to reverse the ebb in his fortunes that had begun when Allied troops landed in France on D-day. Seeking to drive to the English Channel coast and split the Allied armies as they had done in May 1940, the Germans struck in the Ardennes Forest, a seventy-five-mile stretch of the front characterized by dense woods and few roads, held by four inexperienced and battle-worn American divisions stationed there for rest and seasoning….

-The U.S. Army Center for Military History

On that cold December morning, U.S. and Allied forces in Europe found themselves under attack from the German army.  The German counteroffensive was designed to divide the Allied forces, giving Hitler an advantage in the war.  The Ardennes campaign came to be known in the U.S. as The Battle of the Bulge.

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“We attacked the woods. Thank God, we are still alive.” – The Battle of the Bulge, 70 years later

Soldiers with the U.S. Army’s 347th Infantry Regiment line wait for a meal on their way to La Roche, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge in January 1945. — Courtesy of the National Archives photo no. 111-SC-198849

Soldiers with the U.S. Army’s 347th Infantry Regiment line wait for a meal on their way to La Roche, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge in January 1945. — Courtesy of the National Archives photo no. 111-SC-198849

He never talked about war. At least not to me.

It’s been ten years since my grandfather passed away. A career Army officer, he served in three wars: World War II, Korea and Vietnam.  It was only after both he and my grandmother died and I began to dig through the old photos, the faded newspaper clippings and award citations that a fuller picture of his service came into view.

My grandfather, then Lt. Joseph Brigandi from Syracuse, New York, served with Company L, 134th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division.  Seventy years ago, in December 1944 and January 1945, he was one of thousands of soldiers engaged in battle in the Ardennes forest. Today we know that campaign as the Battle of the Bulge.

While I never talked with my grandfather about what happened in that forest, a month ago, I sat down with four Veterans to learn about their experiences. Mike Levin, Douglas Dillard, John Schaffner and Al Shebab were there in December 1944. They experienced the battle from different perspectives: artillery, airborne, infantry, cavalry. The stories they shared were harrowing, heart breaking, and yet inspirational.

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Employment: Most Veterans doing better; VA offers online assistance tools.

The November 2014 unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Veterans as a whole are doing better than non-Veterans. Gulf War II Veteran unemployment rate decreased this month, but is still .2 percent higher than non-Veterans.

Veteran unemployment rolling average

Veteran unemployment rolling average

The 12-month rolling averages show that Veterans and non-Veterans overall are doing better than they were a year ago. Compared to last month, Veteran unemployment rates decreased by .183 and non-Veteran unemployment rates decreased by .075.

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

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Three VA employees honored with OSC “Public Servant of the Year” Award

osc-seal-logoToday, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) honored three VA employees with its Public Servant of the Year award. The VA whistleblowers worked directly with OSC to uncover issues with patient care at the Phoenix, Arizona, and Jackson, Mississippi, VA Medical Centers.

The three awardees are:

  • Dr. Katherine Mitchell, who disclosed critical understaffing and inadequate triage training at the Phoenix VA medical center’s emergency room and other problems.
  • Dr. Phyllis Hollenbeck, who blew the whistle on chronic understaffing at the Jackson VA medical center, problems with the supervision of nurse practitioners, and other issues in early 2013.
  • Dr. Charles Sherwood, who brought forward concerns of improper practices in the Jackson VA medical center’s radiology department.

The OSC wasn’t alone in recognizing the efforts of the three physicians. VA’s Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson was on hand during the award ceremony to acknowledge their contributions to Veterans by bringing to light improper practices and conditions that were affecting patient care.

“While we still have vast work to do, I believe that it’s because of Dr. Katherine Mitchell that access to care in Phoenix is beginning to improve,” Gibson said. “I believe it’s because of Dr. Phyllis Hollenbeck and Dr. Charles Sherwood that Veterans are beginning to receive better care in Mississippi.”

Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner echoed Gibson’s remarks and highlighted VA’s determination to listen and protect its whistleblowers.

“Although there is still work to be done, the new leadership at the VA has swiftly taken corrective actions to improve access to care and to hold individuals accountable,” Lerner said. “The VA has also renewed its commitment to listen to employees who speak out.”

Gibson also expanded on MyVA the largest department-wide transformation in VA’s history – and the importance of “building an organization defined by Veteran outcomes and the satisfaction of those we serve.”

“So to all three of you, on behalf of the entire Department and all the Veterans we serve, thank you for living our values and being an example to all of us,” he said.

You can read Deputy Secretary Gibson’s remarks here.

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VA National Cemeteries: Honoring Veterans, caring for families in their time of need

Dallas Fort Worth National Cemetery memorial service.

VA is dedicated to ensuring our nation’s Veterans and eligible family members receive a timely and dignified burial in honor of their service and sacrifice.  Due to our dedicated workforce, VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA) has been recognized repeatedly for outstanding customer service on behalf of Veterans and their families.  Unfortunately, the recent Stars and Stripes article from November 21, 2014, “Burial Delays Prompt Push for VA Oversight in Congress” leaves an incorrect perception about interment delays at VA national cemeteries.

There is no wait time for burial in a VA national cemetery beyond a day or two depending on demand at each cemetery.  Once VA establishes a Veteran or family member’s eligibility for burial, the Veteran’s next of kin or authorized representative can schedule an interment service with us.  Establishment of eligibility and scheduling of burials takes approximately 10 minutes if the requestor can provide discharge documents, or if VA can find discharge documents in our electronic systems.  If necessary to help establish eligibility, VA conducts research to retrieve the discharge documents that usually takes no more than 48 hours.  There are instances when eligibility determinations for the Veteran’s burial in a national cemetery are requested but the burial is not scheduled. In this instance, NCA follows up every 30 days in an effort to ensure scheduling of the interment.  In no instance has a Veteran or eligible family member waited to be buried because of an untimely response from NCA.

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