Everything Is Beautiful at the VA

By Bob Gutsche, VietNow National VA Chairman

VA NewsEverything is beautiful. Maybe. I had intended to devote this entire column to the problems experienced by the VA since the last issue but our esteemed editor told me, “No, you can’t have the entire magazine.” Well, as better heads prevailed, I will devote the article to positive news regarding the VA.

New leadership

The President has appointed Robert A. McDonald as the new Secretary of the VA. Mr. McDonald is a West Point graduate, and served as CEO of Proctor and Gamble Company.

I believe it took a great amount of soul searching and determination on his part to accept the position of what is thought to be a dysfunctional department. Apparently he believes that he can make significant changes to the system to return it to an agency that provides top medical care and benefits to our nation’s veterans. I certainly hope so.

Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 

Congress finally reached a bi-partisan agreement to provide the VA with additional funds. These funds are part of an attempt to correct the problems that have recently come to light. The cost of this legislation is a mere $17 billion dollars. This funding will go to impact five major areas:

  • Expand and improve healthcare access to veterans to ensure they will not have to wait months to receive care.
  • Hire more doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.
  • Expand or build 27 new outpatient clinics or research facilities.
  • Enhance treatment for military sexual trauma and traumatic brain injury.
  • Provide in-state tuition rates for post-9/11 GI Bill recipients.

While the legislation will fund additional medical positions, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) had inserted into the legislation positions for 2,000 medical residents. While this may sound great, we need to realize that these positions are still learning positions before obtaining full M.D. credentials, and require the supervision of an M.D. At present, most M.D.s seem to have enough work to do already, and now will have an additional staff person to supervise. Also, it’s likely that once the residency period is completed, most of these doctors will leave the VA for a more lucrative and challenging career.

Another issue not mentioned in this legislation is the fact that even though the House had voted to previously withhold bonuses until 2016, the legislation earmarks $360 Million for VA bonuses. Even though the House had passed legislation that would freeze bonuses through 2016, the bonuses will still flow. In fact, the freezing of bonuses at the $360 million-dollar mark is only 10 percent below previous allowed levels.

So what about all the other problems?

There has been a lot of discontent and anger about the possible illegal actions that were occurring, such as delaying appointments, tests not ordered, records destroyed, claims backlogs, and more. Promises were made to take action, heads would roll, and some employees might face legal action. What happened? We need to keep our elected officials on top of this so these people do not just get away with it.

Keep an eye on your mailbox 

The VA has finally begun to mail out the new VA patient ID cards. These cards are supposed to be more secure than the previous one, which could have information stolen from it by anyone with a smart phone.

Don’t take your guns to town

Recently, some veterans have gotten letters from the VA regarding firearm safety, and offering up to four free gun locks for completing an enclosed form. I would think long and hard before giving a government agency information about how many firearms I might have.

Town hall meetings

The new VA Secretary has directed VA facilities to start holding town hall meetings, in hopes that the VA will get an idea of how veterans actually perceive the VA, and to get suggestions for improvement. Watch for these meetings in your area – remembering that if we don’t work to help solve the problems things will only get worse.

And the beat goes on

With all the self-inflicted problems for the VA, we hope that some of the actions taken by Congress will have a positive effect. News reports indicate that it will take at least two years before we’ll see significant, positive changes. Can we afford to wait that long.

 

Bob Gutsche, VietNow National VA ChairmanAfter over 20 years in the U.S. Navy, VietNow National VA Chairman, Bob Gutsche worked as a counselor in the VA system for many years.