VA in 2019: A Year of Improvements and Continued Progress


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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.

In fiscal year 2019, VA completed more than 59.9 million internal appointments – a record high and about 1.7 million more than the year before.                                                                                                                                                                        

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 ReviewSupplemental 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.

94 percent of total White House VA Hotline cases created have been resolved.                                                    

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

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.

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's EHR solution successfully transferred 23.5 million Veteran records to DoD's data center.

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

$8.6 billion in new mental health services funding means more access and better care for Veterans.                                           

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.

Author

VAntagePoint Contributor

— VAntage Point Contributors provide insight and perspective on a wide range of Veterans issues. If you’d like to contribute a story to VAntage Point, learn how you can submit a guest blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/how-to-submit-a-guest-post/

Comments

  1. Janice Davis    

    The doctors and nurses at the VAMC in Durham NC are terrific, but half the schedulers are still horrible.

    I called the radiology department this afternoon about my upcoming appointment. I let the phone ring for about 5 minutes. They picked up the handset just to hang up on me. I let the phone ring for another 5 minutes. Again they picked up the handset just to hang up. I let the phone ring for another 5 minutes. Same thing, again! I let the phone ring another 5 minutes. FINALLY, they answered.

    How does this compare to professional medical services?

  2. tony squadrito    

    No offense but it stinks. It is like a kangaroo court. They send you for tests and the results the VA gives you differ from your private doctor. I have been trying to get compensation for tinnitus and hearing loss with no luck. Vietnam Veteran 1970.

  3. tony squadrito    

    I am a Vietnam Veteran and suffer from Tinnitus and hearing loss in one ear. I went to my private ENT doctor who confirmed my I had suspected since I dealt with munitions. I applied for compensation through the VA and was sent to Philly to get tests performed. As I suspected, the doctor ran all these hearing tests and found they weren’t military related. This is why I have a dislike and a distrust for the VA and the government. I went to a private specialist and was diagnosed with Tinnitus and hearing loss. The government and VA don’t care about issuing compensation to those who deserve it and yet want us to serve and protect.

  4. Bob Elam    

    I am a Vietnam combat veteran who has been under care at several VA facilities. I cannot complain about the service provided. Several surgeries, treatments, etc. since 1972 and still say the medical staff as well as most of the administrative staff are super. I am now at a stage in life, living in a rural area 70 miles from nearest major VA center. I so attend a clinic 35 miles away but at the point where i most likely will not be able to drive that far. VA has helped with major local care to a point but it would be recommended that more in depth study be done for delivery of special needs automatically for those unable to travel. I hate to totally give up VA care.

  5. Richard smith    

    When is the VA going to approve dental care for all service connected veterans? The outside dentists are killing us. The fees are outrageous.

    Richard Smith, Tampa VA patient

  6. Ken Blanchard    

    I have always received great care from the salt lake VA. I have two different types of cancer and they have done a great job with my treatments.

  7. Doug Cacciola    

    Give us dental care! Poor oral health leads to so many other health problems! The VA could save a fortune by preventing those health conditions relating to poor oral health. It’s a no-brainer!
    Not to mention Mercury fillings are toxic!

  8. Doug Cacciola    

    I cannot understand why our mouths are treated so differently than the rest of our bodies. It should simply have specialists like with all of our body’s other systems and dealt with the same way. Besides, the VA needs to understand that poor oral health leads to so many other health conditions throughout the body that they now have to address. For example, bacteria from even low-grade infections could infect your heart and other organs. Mercury is poisoning us!
    And, if we cannot chew our food and eat properly a myriad of health conditions will surely follow. Many millions of treatments and VA visits could be avoided if you would just take care of our mouths!

  9. LINDA HIBBARD BONUCCELLI    

    Having medical centers between 50 and 90 miles away and having difficulties traveling very far in cars due to my disabilities, i have been referred twice to the local community for care. Both times i received appointments from Tri-Care within 10 days of the referral. I have been very pleased with this community care program. The only problem so far has been that the private facilities are having trouble getting paid and i believe i will have a fight on my hand. But it is so worth it so just see physicians within my own town. Didn’t vote for Trump, don’t even like him or his policies but he has been amazing for the VA system which i find shocking to say the least.

  10. Michael Oliver    

    Vietnam-Era vet served 3rd Marine Air Wing and from October of 1966; (after receiving Notice of Draft) to discharge in May of 1970.
    Accepted into VA medical care in Fall of 2005 when homeless and certified so in San Francisco, CA. which I believe is a superior example of VA care; perhaps much because of their relationship with the U.C. system and their M.D.’s.
    Received housing in April of 2006, an 225 square foot SRO at Market and 7th; courtesy of the Mayor’s Housing Program and one superior VA Employee; the late Lucille Gibbs, who pushed this vet’s application thru the system. in May of 2006, FILED Claim for benefits; which was denied in 2010, and which I then Appealed. It is currently approaching fourteen years into this Claim/Appeal, I am at the BVA the THIRD time, and post my U.S. Court (CAVC) Joint Remand of 2018; which was my Second Joint Remand, the first being 2016; by the same U.S. Court for Veteran’s Claims in D.C.
    Twice, the Board of the V.A./ BVA has had the opportunity to dig deep into material evidence on record in this claim/appeal; three times counting this last period which is now six months after my attorney Filing into Evidence; his brief submitted on my behalf June 11th 2019. Stanford Law Review published in May of 2019 through their Law Professor Ho; a study about the BVA and irreconcilable Reports of their efficiency, obfuscated for the sake of congressional overview apparently. This is not what Abraham Lincoln had in mind folks.

  11. LINDA HIBBARD BONUCCELLI    

    I live in Stockton Ca and have multiple clinics/Medical Centers within 90 miles. Unfortunately, i can’t travel far in a car. Twice now i have needed care at the medical center 90 miles away, twice now i have told them i physically can’t make the trip. Twice now they, the Stockton CBOC got me an appointment for community care within `ten days. This program has worked fantastic for me and i greatly appreciate that is now available.

  12. William J Matthews    

    If there are problems with the VA I have not experienced any. The VA has been excellent to the point of better care and expediency exceeding the private sector. I am a combat wounded Marine having served in Vietnam, 68/69.
    Thanks to the hard working VA employees.

  13. John Curtis moss    

    Been under Longview Texas va clinic for three years care. Have received good care Ever time I have gone there. Doctors and nurses working hard and seeing a lot of patients

  14. Robert Holbrooke Carton    

    I am a Vietnam Era Veteran with an Honorable discharge in 1976. I am honored as a brother by most Vets even though I did not face live fire.
    Others like me do not get DENTAL coverage and I think that is wrong. We were trained the same, broken down and rebuilt mentally and physically, enlisted even when the draft was on, and had our families worry constantly if we were going to be sent “In Country”.
    We were looked down enough by civilian’s as Baby Killers even though we weren’t. I think the VA should treat us all FAIRLY from all sides also and give us Dental coverage.

    1. HM2 WOODY, USN, 65-69    

      F. A.R. ! ! ! I TOO ENLISTED MAR’65, AND AS A USN LAB, TECH BY TRAINING, MY NAME CAME UP MANY TIMES TO GO FMF. MY BILLOT HM8417 IS WHAT SAVED MY ASS FROM THE HORRORS OF VIETNAM! TOO MANY BUDDIES NEVER CAME HOME UPRIGHT.

      I WAS SPARED BUT STILL BARE GUILT FROM “NON-IN COUNTRY” DUTY.

      AS WITH OTHERS’ CONCERNS REGARDING THE DENIAL OF DENTAL COVERAGE , THIS “LACK” IS MORE THAN A SLAP IN THE FACE. FTR, I HAVE HAD LUMBAR SURGERY, SPINAL EPIDURALS, MULTIPLE CTs, MRIs, XRAYS BUT NO DENTAL. SO………. WHAT T.H.E. K__F? WHY?

      DURING MY U.S.N. DISPENSARY, I GUESS MY DELIVERING TWO BABIES, MANY A SUTURINGS, LAB SPECIMENS PROCESSED, ALL MEAN NOTHING, NOT A THING!!! BUTT, WAIT!! I DID MY JOB JUST AS WELL, AND PROUDLY!!

      DOES ANY OF THIS MAKE SENSE?????NOT TO THE VA!!!!

      I WOULD SAY MY TRUE FEELINGS BUTT THE DARK GLASSES WEARERS THAT SPEAK INTO THEIR SLEEVES MIGHT COME A KNOCKING. HOWEVER; WE ENLISTEES AND DRAFTEES BARE NO RESEMBLANCE TO THE FIVE(5) TIME DRAFT DODGER WANNABE!!

  15. Garry Thompson    

    The V.A. facility in Dayton, Ohio is a first class medical service place for veterans. Courteous staff, easy access, and always welcoming personnel who always thank you for your service. Keep up the great work

  16. Fredrick Howe    

    Here in Illinois, I’ve been very satisfied with the VA care, especially at the Galesburg VA Center, AND Iowa City, IA which provides services my hearing aids. Before going to the VA for hearing care, I dealt with private hearing “specialists” for nearly 10 years and it became a lesson in futility and never did work out. I also have prescriptions necessary for my heart health and now BP, both of which are monitored as necessary and provided in a timely manner. I’m a 4 year Navy vet 1961-1965 and have absolutely no complaints with the VA. To go one step further with my compliments, I couldn’t be happier with the service they’ve provided for me. 🙂

  17. Sha Dun    

    Speed vs quality. In my case speed is costing me years as I’ll have to now opt for a BVA appeal.

  18. Donald Hopson    

    I am appreciative for services I’ve received from our local V A Outpatient Clinic. From the admins, RNs and physician, they have been very kind and helpful to me. And I sincerely appreciate it.

  19. cliff wolfe    

    VA only gave me a hard time before I threatened them with the media. They wanted me to go to a nursing home leave them alone. Am bedridden. They said they couldn’t find me an HHA and they had veterans dying every day cause of this. Guess that’s Syr NYs business plan. All of a sudden I have service. Why does VA always fight veterans.

  20. James Andrew Brown    

    I have to disagree with improved customer service!

    My reason for disagreeing is the result of a refinance loan that was rejected by the underwriter due to incorrect information supplied to him from the VA. I have tried repeatedly to get this corrected but have not been able to get the persons in the VA to respond but once. And that response was to reapply. After over 8 months of mistakes and having to re-do things as many as 3 times the VA still couldn’t get it right.

    The loan items that are incorrect are:
    1. They claimed I was unmarried when they had been informed the opposite.
    2. My wife is in a Memory Care facility and they said that the funding was coming out of my personal funds which it is not. It comes from an Unlimited Long Term Care Insurance policy, for which the VA has documentation

    Would you call this improved customer service?

    I would appreciate a timely response. I put in 8 years in the Navy in the prime of my life, without regret, and this is one of the benefits I earned and would like to take advantage of it…I have documentation to support all of this.

    James Brown {Proud Veteran}

  21. Robert Soto    

    I have seen a tremendous improvement in the VA care system since President Trump took a personal interest in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Not saying it’s perfect, and I admit that it still needs improvement…but all in all it has made a 180 Degree turn from the direction it was heading under the previous administration.

  22. kenneth thomas scott    

    The white house VA hotline is a real life saver!Thank you so much!!Only alive and well today because of vietnam war hardship pension.May the great spirit be with you!!!

  23. Robert Herald Cole    

    The VA is now using many civilian healthcare resources for veteran referrals. I have been having numerous bouts of falling asleep at inopportune moments (mid conversation with coworker and red light while driving to name a few). I went to my local VA and was told that I would have to wait about three months for a sleep study but was given the alternative to use a local hospital if I preferred. They had me in and out in about a week. Now I just have to wait on the VA to provide the CPAP which hopefully won’t take to long. I have cut back on my driving for fear of causing a collision and hurting someone due to my issues.

  24. Shawn Elliott    

    Took me couple months and several messages to my senator to get local authorization for sleep study. Our VA hospital is a two hour drive each way. I’m waiting for approval to see a local nose specialist that primary VA doctor submitted five weeks ago. It appears to me the VA doesn’t want to approve local medical services to justify keeping their jobs.

  25. james correa    

    I would like to commend the Wilmington, NC VA for the quality health care I have been receiving for the last 8yrs from my local VA, I could not be happier with my doctor P.A. A Clair, He is compassionate and caring and takes the time to talk to me and explain in detail what his plan is for my care and I’m grateful for him.

  26. Brian O’Connell    

    So full of S—T . Went to pain management at Albuquerque VA and was berated , demoralized and treated like a drug addict . My spine is collapsed and VA can’t help me . They don’t have the skill to do the surgeries . I have letters of medication compliance and the psychologist who runs the program put me down and threatened me . I have incurable blood cancer from my service . My bone marrow is on fire. Chronic pain sucks . Because of how they treat me at that VA I’m stopping all cancer treatment and all the other care I get from the VA . I’m in the medical field and I can tell you, The VA is not your friend . They lie and pretend things are changing . They aren’t .

    1. Michael Oliver    

      Regret your situation Brian, but yes your situation is not unique. The VA errors on the side of less pain management than more or adequate pain management. EVERY doctor is fearful of being called on the carpet for dispensing opiates/opioids.

  27. Rafael Martinez    

    VA medical and clinic are amazing. The care I’ve received is first class.

  28. Nick Mascolo    

    I cannot thank the VA for all they have done for me personally, I am sure other Veterans will echo those sentiments. I truly believe that Nurses, Dr.s and right on down the line care about us!

    I have had surgeries and other procedures performed with the best of care. My wife is a nurse and tells me what she has seen is state of the art facilities and a caring staff.

  29. Julie Fiddaman    

    I’m a Vet from 3 different champagnes and the VA has been great for me as I can’t work right now so have no health insurance. They still have flaws and you still have to prove sometimes why they should make a payment on a referral that the VA hospital suggests BUT says the VA may not pay. We are working with VSO’s for help and it was be a process, but a big improvement has begun. Thank you, all of you, keep up the good work and I for one really appreciate you.

  30. Scott nelson    

    VA is 2 be commended. While some of their procedures r clunky, their hearts r big and their care protocs r well intentioned and comprehensive. Thnks VA.

  31. Judy Armocida    

    It took 5 weeks to approve PT for a service connected disability and another 9 weeks to be approved for an MRI. I am now waiting for a referral to a neurosurgeon. The VA told me that I could be seen by someone local but that wait could be 4-5 months. Not sure how much “quicker” it will be to be seen by the VA surgeon who is 4 hours away.
    Major flaws in the execution of a program that only seems to work on paper.

  32. GARY MCDONOUGH    

    Been waiting 4 months to get a outside dental appointment still no call advocate not helpful

  33. Crystal Gale Taylor    

    I have received care from the VA since 2012. My opinion: Awesome, On Time, Caring, Will get the Job done, Loves All Those who served and the families as well. Keep your head up VA. I know negative things get said, but you are doing outstanding. Much ♥️. C Taylor . Texas native.

  34. Larry Hudson    

    I am a veteran whose glass is half full, not empty because of the professionals who have taken the time to care for my health. A Merry Christmas to you all at Bay Pines, Fl.

  35. William Wandschneider    

    The VA has been good to me over the years. They’ve been taking care of me since 73. I’m grateful

  36. Harry    

    As a Vietnam Veteran, I cannot thank the VA enough for their care and concern for those who served. I know you take a lot of heat, but all in all you do a great job.

  37. Robert L Belli    

    Community care referrals are painfully slow. It took months to get an approval for a sleep study to sdjust my CPAP. I finally went to a local doctor on my non VA insurance and got the machine adjusted. The VA would not adjust it without another sleep study, which was not necessary. I livr in Wisconsin, the approval finally came through several months after i got what i needed. The approval came from Arizona!!

  38. Mark Aboki    

    This year was a wonderful one for the VA considering what has been done this year so far, and hopefully next year is probably gonna be better because VA are always improving year after year.

  39. Thomas Larry YBarbo    

    Let us pat VA on the back for their accomplishments BUT it still took me 4 months to get Dallas VA approval to see a Ortho Specialist after I tore 2 tendons in my shoulder.

    Never mind the back pat, I can’t raise my arm that high because Dallas VA is SLOW in approving request for Community Care.

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