VA’s Blueprint for Excellence: Strategies for more Veteran-centric care

VA's Blueprint for Excellence

“….To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.”

These words from President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address guide the mission of today’s VA.

Over the last two months, VA’s secretary, Bob McDonald, has been traveling throughout the U.S. listening to Veterans and discussing with them the issues that VA is facing.

“The problems we face are serious,” Sec. McDonald acknowledges. “The President, Congress, Veterans service organizations, taxpayers, and VA’s rank and file all understand the need for immediate reforms to achieve three non-negotiable goals—goals we set for ourselves more than two months ago on our ‘Road to Veterans Day.’”

VA's Blueprint for ExcellenceWith Veterans Day just one week away, VA continues to work towards those goals and to better serve and care for those who have “borne the battle.”

Earlier this fall, the Veterans Health Administration released its Blueprint for Excellence, an important step in VA’s transformation.

“This blueprint is critical to achieving part three of our Road to Veterans Day initiative—setting a course for long-term excellence and reform,” Sec. McDonald told the annual meeting of the Institute of Medicine. “It is VA’s template to re-establish the department’s preeminence and leadership in American healthcare.”

Read the Blueprint for Excellence and the Secretary’s remarks to the Institute of Medicine for more on what VA is doing to set its course for the future.



American Legion Auxiliary presented Outstanding Contribution to the Arts Award

ALA group at Arts festival

American Legion Auxiliary members at the 2014 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Each year, VA hosts the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival and each year, the Festival co-presenter, American Legion Auxiliary (ALA), provides support that is absolutely vital to the success of the event. Recently, the ALA received a much-deserved honor to highlight their many years of supporting Veterans through art therapies.

The Americans for the Arts presented the ALA with the prestigious Outstanding Contribution to the Arts Award for the Auxiliary’s important work in helping Veterans heal through the arts, most notably through the ALA’s 14-year co-sponsorship of the annual National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

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Team Red White & Blue opens Firebase Tampa, Florida

Founded in 2010, Team Red White & Blue has more than 50,000 members with chapters in 120 cities across the country. Surprisingly, Team RWB  accomplished this amazing growth without a physical facility, not even an administrative office, but that is changing.

They recently opened  Firebase Tampa in Tampa, Florida.

Blayne Smith, U.S. Army Veteran and Team RWB executive director noted that the facility will amplify the organization’s community impact and better serve Veterans.

“We have this building in Tampa, but we decided we wanted to give it back to the community,” he said. “The firebase is built on three major themes, knowledge, empowerment and inspiration. We invite Veterans, their families and members of the community in here every day.”

Mike Morton (right) and Dave James (left) move Old Glory through eastern Colorado.

Mike Morton (right) and Dave James (left) move Old Glory through eastern Colorado.

The national non-profit organization  enriches the lives of Veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activities. Team RWB’s activities include running, walking, cross fit, yoga, team relay races, social activities and volunteering.

Members often wear the group’s symbol, a stretched eagle on t-shirts, hats and even tattoos. Yes, there are several members who have Team RWB tattoos.

But that shouldn’t be surprising to any Team RWB member. Read More »


VA guarantees its 21 millionth home loan

My house 2VA announced this month that it has guaranteed 21 million home loans since the home loan guaranty program was established in 1944 as part of the original Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the “GI Bill.” This achievement comes during the year-long commemoration of 70 years of the “GI Bill,” which established a wide range of benefits for Veterans returning from World War II, including low-cost home loans, education and vocational training.

“This vital program offers Veterans, Servicemembers and their families the keys to homeownership and is truly a testament to our nation’s commitment to enhancing the lives of those who served our country,” said Allison A. Hickey, VA’s Under Secretary for Benefits. “Twenty-one million home loans guaranteed, with the last one million guaranteed in just two years, is just one example of how VA employees are privileged to continue to serve and give back to our Veterans through the GI Bill.”

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National Veterans Creative Arts Festival begins today


Veterans began checking yesterday for this years National Veterans Creative Arts Festival in Wisconsin.

More than 100 Veterans from across the country are in Milwaukee today through Sunday for the 2014 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

Robert Cooper, from Martinsburg, West Virginia, tunes a folk harp for a rehearsal which culiminate with on Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014 with a stage performance at Milwaukee Theatre.

Robert Cooper, from Martinsburg, W.Va., tunes a folk harp for a rehearsal which culminates with on Sunday  with a stage performance at Milwaukee Theater.

The Festival, presented by VA and the American Legion Auxiliary, showcases the artistic achievements of Veterans from across the country who placed first in national art, music, dance, drama and creative writing division competitions. The Veterans will participate in workshops, rehearsals and artistic interaction sessions, culminating in an art exhibit and stage show performance, open to the public.

Among many other therapeutic benefits, the Festival encourages artistic expression to help Veterans dealing with PTSD and other psychological issues.  More than 3,500 Veterans participated  in regional competitions which culminate in the annual national event. Read More »

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Veteran learns to thrive after war and tragedy

Like many Veterans, Brandon brought the war home: Combat had changed him. This proud son of Wisconsin’s Ho-Chunk Nation, whose family members include the tribal chief and a Vietnam combat Veteran, needed help.

Encouraged by loved ones, he sought care at the Minneapolis VA — and by using his VA benefits to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and get an education, this young Marine Veteran built a new life and career, producing Native American music.

Hear and share Brandon’s story.

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Veterans Affairs’ Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery one of the most scenic

R5Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery was recently listed as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world in an article appearing in both Smithsonian Magazine and Travel and Leisure.

Situated in San Diego County on the Fort Rosecrans Military reservation, the cemetery is located approximately 10 miles west of San Diego, overlooking the bay and the city. It became a National Cemetery on Oct. 5, 1934. The decision to make the post cemetery part of the national system came, in part, due to changes in legislation that greatly increased the number of persons eligible for burial in a national cemetery. Grave space in San Francisco National Cemetery then grew increasingly limited. In addition, southern California was experiencing a phenomenal population growth during this period, and there was a definitive need for more burial sites.

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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.


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.

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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


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 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.