State of VA Health Care: Reports Highlight Historic Firsts

State of VA Health Care: Reports Highlight Historic Firsts
More than 1,000 veterans attended a PACT Act claims clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., in August 2023. (Photo by Dustin Senger/Eastern Colorado VA)

Two recent Veterans Health Administration (VHA) reports feature significant advances in medical technology and multiple transformative efforts underway to modernize and improve the lives of more than 9 million veterans enrolled in its care.


VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal shared VHA’s 2023 Annual Report in a message to MOAA and other veterans service organizations while thanking the groups for championing the health and well-being of veterans and for their ongoing partnership with the VHA. This is the first interactive, digital health care report released by the VHA; it outlines a range of advances in medical technology that are transforming health care delivery across the nation.


A second report, The Heart of Veteran Care, is also a first-of-its-kind review, offering a full perspective of VA clinical care. The report outlines the many services the VHA provides and includes testimonials from dedicated frontline medical staff and the veterans they care for every day.


Last year was a monumental year for the VA as it rolled out expanded benefits and health care coverage to millions of veterans when it implemented the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. The legislation drove an unprecedented number of veterans exposed to environmental toxins to file disability claims and enroll in VA health care, and spurred on the health system’s transformation.


[RELATED: President Signs Comprehensive Toxic Exposure Reform Legislation]


VHA by the Numbers

  • 400,000+: Veterans who enrolled in health care over the last 365 days; 30% higher than in 2022.

  • 5 million+: Veterans receiving health screenings for potential environmental exposures; 43% reported at least one exposure.

  • 746,500+: Veterans who received an upgrade in their health care priority group.

  • 1 million+: Veterans enrolled in VA’s Million Veteran Program (MVP), the largest genetic research program of its kind. The program seeks preventions and treatments for illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, post-traumatic stress, and substance-use disorders.

  • 61,000+: New hires in the VHA — the largest growth rate in 15 years, which came during a 20% decrease in employee turnover.

  • 49,700+: Veterans in suicidal crisis who received free emergency health care.

  • 4 million: Veterans accessing telehealth care, representing 40% of veterans in the VHA; 1 million veterans received video telemental health visits, representing over 33% of VHA’s total mental health visits.

  • 2,415: Veteran peer specialists in the VA, which is the single largest employer of this type of medical advocate in the U.S.

  • ~90%: Percentage of veterans who trust the VA for their care.


“We want every eligible veteran to enroll in VA health care for one simple reason: veterans who come to VA are proven to have better outcomes — and pay less — than veterans who don’t,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a recent press release. “That’s why we’ve spent the past year meeting veterans where they are — hosting thousands of events, sending millions of texts, advertising on every corner, and much more — to get them to come to VA. This aggressive outreach campaign has led more veterans to enroll in VA care than during any year in at least a decade, and we’re not slowing down.”


[RELATED: What Does the Largest VA Budget Request Ever REALLY Mean for Veterans?]


Major Contributor to Medical and Scientific Research

On the technology front, the VHA monitors more than 2 million veterans with diabetes using remote temperature monitoring devices in veterans’ homes to help prevent amputations from foot ulcers. And advanced assistive technology using 3D printing is providing life-changing services to help veterans drive, play sports, apply makeup, or take on other activities that allow for a fulfilling life.


The VHA is using immersive technology like virtual reality to provide a unique gamifying experience in veterans’ rehabilitation to increase engagement. Additionally, VHA’s Diffusion Marketplace website fosters greater innovation between the VA and the civilian health care community, and its Pathfinder program serves as a digital front door for innovators, businesses, and veterans to submit solutions, ideas, products, or services and collaborate with the VA to improve health care for veterans.  


Additionally, the VA cares for more than 450,000 veterans with cancer, diagnosing about 56,000 new cancers each year. The VA's National Precision Oncology Program is part of the White House Cancer Moonshot initiative, which aims to reduce cancer mortality by 50% in the next 25 years. In 2023, the FDA cleared VHA’s Radiotherapy Bolus device used to protect healthy tissue in cancer patients during radiation therapy by focusing the radiation solely on cancerous tumors.


[RELATED: VA Recognized for Improving Surgical Care for Frail Veterans]


There also are well-being and suicide prevention research programs inspired by VA staff, such as:

  • Transforming Health and Resilience through Integration of Values-based Experiences, or the THRIVE program, which provides 14 weeks of carefully programmed sessions to help veterans find purpose, self-esteem, whole health, and life satisfaction.

  • The Mission Daybreak initiative, where the VA funds innovators to develop suicide prevention solutions — the intent is to accelerate the research and development to bring solutions to a diverse group of veterans struggling with mental health conditions and suicide ideation before they are in crisis.


MOAA commends the VHA for these and many more historical advances in veterans’ health care. In our recent testimony before the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees, we noted the VHA has undergone more than two decades of persistent change and mission expansion. The VHA does not operate in isolation: It is an integral partner in delivering essential health care throughout the U.S.


The VHA trains more than 120,000 medical professionals across 40 disciplines each year, including pharmacists, social workers, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners; 70% of physicians and 60% of psychologists in the U.S. have received training in a VA medical facility.


MOAA believes Congress must preserve and protect VHA’s foundational missions — to deliver health care; conduct research; train and educate health professionals; and respond to war, terrorism, national emergencies, and national disasters. Our country relies on VHA to support our nation’s health care infrastructure.


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About the Author

Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret)
Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret)

Campos currently serves as MOAA's Senior Director of Government Relations, managing matters related to military and veterans’ health care, wounded, ill and injured, and caregiver policy.