Addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention on Tuesday, VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald insisted that the VA has made significant progress. “Not only can it be transformed, transformation is well underway—and we’re already seeing results,” he told the audience of more than 12,000 veterans.
In his speech, Secretary McDonald noted the significant change in 13 of the VA’s top 18 executive positions. Still, McDonald insisted, “We can’t fire our way to excellence….We won’t punish people based on opinions, recycled and embellished media accounts, or external pressure. It’s not in the best interest of the veterans we serve. Excellence is what we’re after.”
McDonald touted the VA’s unique approach to health care. “We have a unique lifetime relationship with our 9 million patients and a single electronic health record across the entire enterprise. Nobody else offers that,” he insisted. “Our mental health care’s integrated with primary care, with specialty care, and with psychosocial support to minimize barriers and help resolve problems early. Nobody else offers that.”
According to McDonald, “The VA is embracing what works to heal veterans. And VA care is integrated with nonmedical determinants of health and well-being that people often miss,” he told the VFW. “Under Secretary of Health Dr. David Shulkin is changing our system to proactive, holistic health care and wellness. It’s time we got beyond just reacting to disease when it happens.”
McDonald told the audience that in 2015, veterans had nearly 5 million more appointments than in 2014. Almost 57 million of these appointments were in VA-operated facilities and another 21 million in community settings. Now 97% of appointments are completed within 30 days of veterans’ preferred date, he told the audience, and 86% were completed within 7 days—22% are completed the same day.
“We are making important progress,” McDonald asserted. “But you rarely hear that in the media. You’d never know we lead in many fields of research that benefit all Americans—PTSD, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, prosthetics, genetics.”