What Will it Take to Fix the VA?

September 25, 2015

For the first time in a generation, a congressionally mandated commission will meet to address the future of VA health care.

After news broke of the VA Phoenix medical center scandal last spring, MOAA wrote a letter to the president and leaders of the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees to say bureaucratic red tape and gross inefficiencies preventing veterans from accessing care required immediate attention.

MOAA called for an independent, bipartisan commission made up of leading public and private experts on health care to examine the 21stcentury of VA health care.

Lawmakers heard our message and passed the Veterans Choice Act, which established the VA Commission on Care.

Former MOAA Board of Directors member RADM Joyce Johnson, USPHS (Ret) was one of the presidential appointees to the commission.

Lawmakers also called for an independent study to look at the delivery systems and management processes of the VA Health Administration (VHA), in order to provide a holistic view of the system and its relationship within the VA.

According to the group’s findings, and statements by top leaders in VA, simply buying more care through civilian health provider networks won’t fix the VHA.

Three main themes emerged from the Commission’s first meeting:

    1. It will take time

“The kind of transformational change necessary will be a herculean task that requires sustained commitment,” said Cdr. Rene Campos, USN (Ret), MOAA Deputy Director of Government Relations. “Cultural change is needed at all levels in the VA. This will take years to achieve.”

    1. It will take vision

An integrated system-wide approach that recognizes VHA’s role within both the VA and the broader American health care system is needed. This will require top talent to manage both the current and future needs of veterans.

    1. It will take change

The report found that “Leaders are not fully empowered due to a lack of clear authority, priorities, and roles; they work in a culture of growing risk aversion and distrust.” This leads to a disconnect in both operations and execution. By empowering leaders and providing a shared sense of urgency, VHA can create a patient-centric culture and a transparent, data-driven management system.

The last major review of VA health care delivery was conducted in the 1990s. It established benchmarks and metrics on the quality of care. It also shed light on other issues such as the disability claims backlog. That study’s findings helped the VA lower wait times and cut annual operating costs, while treating more patients and providing higher patient satisfaction.

MOAA looks forward to working with members of the commission, Congress, and the administration to advance the commission’s goals. It’s vital that we forge a roadmap to reform VA health care to ensure world-class access and care to our nation’s veterans and their family members.