(161) In the Hot Zone: VA Working to Restore Trust

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Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

VA Under Siege 

The hot zone not only applies to Middle Eastern locales where American warriors are under fire but to Washington DC where the VA faces heavy fire from politicians, demanding accountability for system-wide failures. In December, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson verbally fought back when US Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas and Representative Jeff Mill of Florida referred to the VA as a corrupt agency with chronic indifference.

Breakthrough Priorities 

Meanwhile, VA Secretary Robert McDonald faced the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on his 12 priorities for 2016. Here is what he committed to accomplishing in what the VA refers to as “12 Breakthrough Priorities”—but don’t get too hopeful yet, as several of his initiatives require Congress to pass specific laws in order to achieve the priority. (To read McDonald’s remarks, click here.)

  1. Improve the Veteran Experience – established a Chief Veteran Experience Officer to focus on customer service, setting standards, and meeting best practices
  2. Increase Access to Health Care – ensure enrolled Veterans receive same day care when needed
  3. Improve Community Care – via Veterans Choice Program with the Veteran authorized to receive care outside of the VA under certain conditions with vendors to be paid within 30 days; subject to successful legislation
  4. Deliver a Unified Veteran Experience – improve web access to VA information for Veterans and their families
  5. Modernize Contact Centers – improve the emergency care hotline with better referrals
  6. Improve the Compensation and Pension Exam Process – measure and improve Veteran’s experience with this process
  7. Develop a Simplified Process – create a modified appeals process and decrease backlog; subject to successful legislation
  8. Continue Progress in Reducing Veteran Homelessness – assist 100,000 more homeless Veterans and family members
  9. Improve Employee Experience – provide better training and add customer service standards to employee performance plans
  10. Staff Critical Positions – address critical staffing shortages by filling positions more quickly
  11. Transform Office of Information and Technology – the VA hired a world-class IT director to address problems with the VA IT system to improve compliance with congressionally mandated interoperability requirements
  12. Transform Supply Chain – improve Medical-Surgical supply and purchasing system to increase responsiveness and reduce costs

In addition to those items already mentioned, Secretary McDonald asked the Committee and Congress for support on the following:

  • Consolidation of Care in the Community
  • Flexible Budget Authority
  • Support for the Purchased Health Care Streamlining and Modernization Act
  • Supporting the FY2017 Budget being submitted this week
  • Special legislation for VA’s West Los Angeles Campus

Speaking of the VA’s West Los Angeles Campus, stay tuned for an update next week on the VA’s plan to restore the West Los Angeles land donated for homeless Veterans back to the Veterans. Not much to tell yet, but you’ll be interested to hear about the one thousand comments the VA received in response to the Draft Master Plan (and I promise I won’t list them).

Molly and Penny’s Breakthrough Priority

If you have been a Molly blog reader for long, you know that Penny has a problem leaving food on the counter and Molly has a problem with eating it. Penny pledged many times not to do it again. Molly promised only to eat when hungry or when treats are left on the counter like the Thanksgiving ham, unsalted butter, and bacon.

Renewing her priority in 2016, Penny vowed to help her husband’s chubby pup by keeping edibles put away. Less than one month into her breakthrough priority, she rushed out the door for just a moment, returning the bacon and the butter to the refrigerator. Oops, she left a dozen eggs on the counter, which Molly found during the minute Penny stepped outside. Molly delicately removed one raw egg and cracked it open on the bedroom carpet. She ate the contents and left the egg shell cracked in half on the floor, giving away her violation.

Molly broke through the egg shell with ease, leaving it mostly intact. Can you see why I called this my breakthrough priority? (If I had stayed away longer, she may have broken through the full dozen–then it would be my “12 breakthrough priorities.”) Let’s hope that VA Secretary McDonald has a better track record at achieving his breakthrough priorities than Molly and her human mom.

Post your Comments: 

Do you think Secretary McDonald identified the most significant VA problems in his list of Breakthrough Priorities for 2016? If not, what is missing? Please reply below. 

Sources cited:

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.