The Department of Veterans Affairs was all over the news last year, with a scandal over wait times at VA hospitals and a subsequent cover-up. Reforms were promised. And so when we asked our online community of veterans what we should focus on this Veterans Day, many asked for an update on the VA.
The changes started with a new boss: Robert McDonald.
“Bob McDonald came in last year as a former CEO of Proctor & Gamble,” says Ben Kesling, a former Marine infantry officer who covers veterans’ affairs for the Wall Street Journal. “[He] brought in a lot of business acumen to the job, and came in with a lot of goodwill, from Congress, from the administration and veterans’ groups. And since then, it’s taken a while to turn the big ship that is the VA.”
He’s been making changes. “But,” adds Kesling, “if you ask the man himself, he still says there’s plenty to be done, and it’s going to take a long time to make long-term systemic changes in the Department.”
One thing that McDonald has tried to tackle is the culture at the VA, to make sure the patient is the center of the VA’s focus. “So he wants to make sure that it’s not a focus on the system itself or purely on cost,” explains Kesling. “He wants to make sure all employees are looking to do customer service first.”
According to the biweekly reports from the Inspector-General, who oversees the Department, wait times are getting better.
The reports also assess the impact of the Veterans Choice Act, which is a piece of legislation brought in last year after the scandal. It enables veterans to seek out-of-network medical care under certain conditions. “But,” says Kesling, “there are still problems with that roll-out. I was just talking to a veteran the other day who hasn’t received the VA Choice Card, as it’s called, in the mail. It was supposed to be sent to all veterans so they could take advantage of getting care outside the VA if wait times were too long.”
“When veterans are polled about the quality of care,” says Kesling, “those who are in the system, those who are taking advantage of VA care, they say that they would rather have care there than anywhere else. But there are veterans –and this is part of the wait-time scandal last year – [who are] trying to get that first appointment… That’s where a lot of the delays come from. That’s one of the main complaints that veterans have.”
An independent report, published in September, also criticizes the VA for its ‘bloated bureaucracy,’ and in particular the apparently excessive number of managers.
We regularly contact our community of veterans to get their insights and help our coverage on military issues. If you’re a veteran and want to help better inform our reporting, just text the word "return" to 69866 and we'll text you.