Are Veterans Seeing Improvement in the VA?

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In June of this year an audit was published by the U.S. government looking into 731 veteran affair service organizations. The audit found most of these service organizations to be severely wanting, with bad policy in place and unacceptable wait times. This was soon after the veteran health care scandal that eventually led to Veteran Affairs Chief Eric Shinseki’s resignation, and the harsh criticism of many.

The audit found that as of May 15, 2014, there were over 6 million appointments scheduled in the VA, 57,436 veterans waiting to be scheduled, 63,869 who had enrolled in the system but hadn’t been given an appointment, and that the 57,436 newly enrolled veterans on the electronic waiting list would have to wait up to 90 days to receive treatment. In honor of veterans day and the respect and support deserved by the many men and women who have served in the United States military, let’s take a look at where the VA stands today and at where post-9/11 veterans stand today in terms of support still needed.

VA Updates on Changes to Come

Probably in preparation for the sort of focus Veterans Day was likely to bring to the Department, the Veterans Affairs Sectary Robert McDonald sent out a message to VA employees with information on efforts to reform the flawed system, outlining four main areas for change. These areas included “a new VA-wide customer service organization to ensure we provide top-level customer service to Veterans,” — i.e. no more deadly wait-times — “a single regional framework that will simplify internal coordination … a national network of Community Veteran Advisory Councils,” and finally a more generalized system so that the support services made available at one VA segment will be the same as at another, basically “shared services.” Candor on Work Still Ahead and Questions Still Unanswered

McDonald’s release, made Monday, is straightforward, admitting “I know there are a lot of questions about this effort, and I know that there will be concerns. We don’t have all the answers right now.”

In a separate release made last week, he spoke with equal candor. “Over the past three months, we’ve been taking a hard look at ourselves, listening to veterans, employees, veterans organizations, unions, members of Congress, and our other partners. Their insights are shaping our work to chart the path for the future,” said McDonald, who the report states has visited 41 VA facilities across the U.S. so far.

There’s no question that massive reforms are needed, and unfortunately, while it’s true that the need for quick and decisive change is enormous, quick is not always a possibility if quality care and structure is to be put in place. As politicized a topic as Obamacare’s website is, it makes for a good example of when not to rush. Healthcare.gov would not have been the PR nightmare that it was, given more time, oversight, and testing.

Rushing to redesign the way the previously poor system functioned would be a mistake, and we should be glad the issue has enough public attention at this point to demand quality results, and thus a measured and careful approach from those bearing the weight of responsibility and the public eye. And in the short term, McDonald has made some moves toward giving immediate relief to those veterans who need care now, not after reform has weighed and measured different roads to improvement. So far, the national new patient primary care wait time is down by 18% and there’s been a 47% increase in non-VA care authorizations. Statistics on Recent Veterans and Why the VA is so Important

These improvements are particularly important given statistics on challenges post-9/11 veterans still face today. A recent set of data published by Pew Research shows 44% of veterans after 9/11 saying they had difficulties readjusting, compared to 25% on average from previous years. Self-reporting of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was shown to have increased to 37% from 16%, though this is likely in part a result of changes in how PTSD is viewed, discussed, and how aware members of the military are of the issue compared to in the past.

Emotional difficulties and psychological problems were shown to be more common in more recent veterans, meaning VA treatment, support, and medication where necessary has been very important for those returning home after service; and delays in treatment and aid particularly reprehensible considering the high rate of veteran suicide in recent years. Additionally, Pew showed one out of six post-9/11 veterans saying they were “seriously injured” during their time serving, “and most of these injuries were combat-related.”

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