The care and services VA provides to Veterans have improved over the years. And this year, VA saw even more progress toward better serving Veterans.
Here are five key ways VA is improving:
Better Customer Service and Performance
Thanks to the MISSION Act, the department launched its new and improved Veterans Community Care Program on June 6, 2019. The law strengthened the VA’s health care system by empowering Veterans with more health care options.
In just the first six months, VA approved nearly 2.8 million referrals to non-VA care for more than 1.5 million Veterans.
MISSION Act also created a new urgent care benefit that gives Veterans easy, local access to medical services for things like a sore throat or a sprained ankle. More than 110,000 urgent care visits have taken place so far, and it’s only getting more popular with Veterans thanks to the 6,400 local urgent care providers who have partnered with VA.
Giving Veterans more options didn’t mean VA stopped providing care at its medical facilities. In fact, VA is seeing more patients than ever before, more quickly than ever before and studies show VA compares favorably to the private sector for access and quality of care – and in many cases exceeds it.
VA has also implemented the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 to streamline department’s claims and appeals process for Veterans. Now, Veterans who appeal a VA claims decision have three decision review options: Higher-Level Review, Supplemental Claim and Appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
On Sept. 10, 2019, VA exceeded its goal, three weeks ahead of schedule, to deliver 90,050 appeals decisions regarding disability benefits and services to Veterans in fiscal year 2019, approximately 9,000 more decisions than the previous year.
Giving Veterans a Voice
To ensure Veterans receive the care they have earned, VA opened the White House VA hotline, which helps quickly address their VA-related concerns. The 24/7 service is principally staffed by Veterans and family members and has fielded more than 365,000 calls and emails with an average time to answer of 24 seconds.
“The White House VA Hotline is quickly becoming VA’s front door for questions or concerns about VA and community resources,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “This milestone is a testament to VA’s commitment to improving the Veteran experience.”
Building Veterans’ Trust in VA
In 2016, Veterans’ overall trust in VA was 60 percent. But Veterans’ overall trust in VA climbed to 69 percent in 2017, and now sits at 72 percent. What’s more, 87.8 percent of Veterans now trust the VA health care they receive, and in a recent Veterans of Foreign Wars survey, nearly three quarters of respondents reported improvements at their local VA, and more than 90 percent said they would recommend VA care to other Veterans.
VFW: VA Health Care Trending in Right Direction: “The innovations over the past year may have expanded non-VA care options, but the response has been more veterans enrolling in the VA for more care – and choosing to receive that care through VA, not an outside provider.” – William J. “Doc” Schmitz, VFW National Commander
Modernizing to Meet the Needs of Today’s Veterans
The department successfully transferred 23.5 million Veterans’ health records to a shared data center with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in 2019. This massive accomplishment sets the stage for VA to begin transitioning to, or “going live,” with its new electronic health record (EHR) in March 2020 at five initial operating capability (IOC) sites.
The new health record will give clinicians a full picture of Veterans’ medical history and enable faster, smarter connections between military service and health outcomes.
“For decades, VA and DoD have been struggling to achieve interoperability and seamlessly share patient records between our health systems . . . This data migration is the first step to solving that problem for good.” – Robert Wilkie, Secretary of VA
VA has embraced telehealth as a way to reach Veterans who aren’t close to a VA hospital or clinic. In the last fiscal year, Veterans took advantage of telehealth more than 2.6 million times across the country, and more than 900,000 Veterans are getting care this way.
VA is also changing the way it buys medicine and equipment by tapping into the Defense Department’s centralized acquisition system. This will mean more efficient purchases, more money spent on Veterans, and less chance for waste, fraud and abuse through millions of local transactions.
Building Partnerships to Prevent Veteran Homelessness and Suicide
VA is doing all it can to end Veteran homelessness. In 2018, the total number of Veterans experiencing homelessness decreased 5.4 percent, and in 2019, that number dropped another 2.1 percent. In the last two fiscal years, VA has helped 124,900 Veterans and their families by housing them or preventing them from becoming homeless.
But VA can do much more by working with local governments, companies and other stakeholders. Thanks to these partnerships, the department saw 78 communities and three states effectively end Veteran homelessness.
These kinds of partnerships are the same way to fight Veteran suicide. That’s why VA adopted a public-health approach to suicide prevention, which focuses on equipping communities to help Veterans connect with local support and resources.
The public-health approach is central to VA’s first ever National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, which was published in 2018, as well as 2019’s President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) executive order. PREVENTS aims to bring together stakeholders across all levels of government and the private sector to address the national suicide epidemic and provide our Veterans with the specific mental health and suicide prevention services they deserve.
VA’s suicide prevention work has been bolstered by $8.6 billion in new mental health services funding that President Trump secured from Congress in 2019.