The home of one of the NBA’s most popular teams will host a career event for current and former military servicemembers and their spouses. The American Legion, in conjunction with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others will host a Hiring Our Heroes job expo at Oracle Arena in Oakland on Nov. 7. The expo includes an employment workshop from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., where job seekers will be able to meet with a team of hiring experts. This Hiring Our Heroes employment workshop is led by HR and workforce professionals and covers a variety of topics including résumé building, networking, and interview tips, taking into account the job seeker's military background and lifestyle. Hiring Our Heroes digital tools are also integrated into the workshop curriculum. Immediately following the workshop, volunteer career coaches will help attendees develop an elevator pitch, participate in a mock interview, and create a more effective résumé. After the workshop, a hiring fair will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will feature prospective employers seeking to hire veterans and their spouses. Current military personnel, veterans and their families are welcome to attend. Attendees should come with their résumés in hand, and be prepared to network or even interview on the spot. No registration is necessary; however, registering for the event allows job seekers to upload their résumés to be viewed by employers ahead of time. All registered veterans and military spouses are also eligible to receive up to two free tickets to attend that evening’s game between the Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans. Click here to register. Event information: Nov. 7 Oracle Arena 7000 Coliseum Way Oakland, CA 94621 9:30-11 a.m. employment workshop 11 a.m.-2 p.m. hiring fair
Northeastern University expanded its commitment to student veterans on Monday afternoon, officially opening a Veterans of Foreign Wars post during a ceremony at the Veterans Memorial. The post is named in honor of Robert R. Pirelli, AS’01, an Army Staff Sgt. from Franklin, Massachusetts, who was killed in Iraq in 2007. It is the first post to be opened in Massachusetts since 2009 and just the second in the nation to be run by student veterans on a college campus. Max Spahn, S’17, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former president of Northeastern’s Student Veterans Organization, will serve as the post’s commander. “We’re one of the best schools for student veterans in the state as well as in the country,” he said prior to the ceremony. “The fact that we are able to take on the responsibility of running this VFW post while juggling school and co-op shows how dedicated we are to helping each other.” Founded in 1899 by Spanish-American War veterans of the 17th U.S. Infantry, the VFW is the nation’s oldest war veterans service organization. Its vision, according to its website, is to “ensure that veterans are respected for their service, always receive their earned entitlements, and are recognized for the sacrifices they and their loved ones have made on behalf of this great country.” Northeastern’s post—dubbed the Robert R. Pirelli Post 12158—will function as a hub for veterans at Northeastern and beyond, Spahn said, offering membership to all active or honorably discharged service members who have served in a foreign theater of war. It will focus on providing solutions to veterans facing housing, education, and employment challenges, he explained in his opening remarks at the ceremony, saying that he hoped it would “establish a model for other universities to follow.” In February, Brian Martin, state commander of the VFW in Massachusetts, met with members of the SVO and asked them if they would like to run the post. Martin was impressed by the group’s popularity and productivity, Spahn recalled, and felt like Northeastern would be a good fit for the VFW’s next state post. “We get things done,” Spahn said, pointing to the SVO’s charitable efforts, “and we loving helping veterans.” On Monday, Brian Duffy, the VFW’s national commander-in-chief, installed more than three dozen veterans as members of post 12158, including 12 students who will take on leadership roles as officers of the organization. “This is a very historic event,” he told the officers. “The torch has been passed,” he added, noting that it is now their responsibility to look out for the next generation of service members. Post 12158 underscores Northeastern’s longstanding devotion to supporting service members on campus. The majority of the university’s student veterans participate in the federal government’s Yellow Ribbon Program, which operates in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs and currently provides scholarships to hundreds of veterans who have served in the post-9/11 era. In addition to the Yellow Ribbon Program, Northeastern offers student veterans myriad on-campus resources to help them achieve their educational and career goals. In 2013, Student Veterans of America recognized Northeastern’s Student Veterans Organization as its top chapter in the United States, ahead of 700 other student veterans programs. “Northeastern student veterans are at the forefront of taking care of their peers,” said Andy McCarty, the director of the university’s Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers. “For Northeastern to have such a strong and vibrant student veteran community as a private nonprofit institution says a lot about the community and the quality of the work they have done. Photo caption: Twelve Northeastern student veterans were installed as VFW officers at a ceremony on Monday. Photo by Matthew Modoono. By Jason KornwitzRead the original article.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Industry leader Garmin has teamed up with the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. to offer VFW members the opportunity to save 20 percent off its extended line of wearable technology in the automotive, aviation, marine, outdoor and sports arenas. Garmin’s line of activity trackers and smartwatches helps users monitor themselves in order to better plan, track, save and share their progress with others, with the overall goal being to maintain healthy and active lifestyles. VFW members can begin taking advantage of their 20-percent discount today by logging onto vfw.org and visiting the Member Benefits section.
MILITARY SURGEONS RELEASE LARGEST REPORT OF U.S. MILITARY HUMANITARIAN MEDICAL CARE DELIVERED IN AFGHANISTAN
Newswise — In the largest and most comprehensive report of surgical humanitarian care rendered in U.S. military treatment facilities in Afghanistan, researchers found that 49 percent of civilian patients were treated for non-war-related conditions. The research team from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, both located in Bethesda, Md., presented their findings today during the 2016 Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons.“We conducted this research because up until now we didn’t have any studies that described the larger, in-theater experience of what kind of injuries and diseases we were treating and what procedures we were performing in terms of the local civilian population,” explained Sharon R. Weeks, MD, lead study author and general surgery resident at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.According to study authors, who looked at U.S. military adult humanitarian care in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2013, 10,705 local civilian patients were treated, of which 5,786 underwent at least one medical or surgical procedure. Of the group that had at least one procedure, 80.9 percent were male. Researchers used information from the U.S. Army Patient Administration Systems and Biostatistics Activity and analyzed patient records separately based on their presentation for war-related injuries.Among the research team’s findings was an identification of the most common procedures performed on patients for both war-related and non-war-related causes of injury. For the war-related group, the most common procedures performed were excisional wound debridement (748 procedures), chest tube placement (124 procedures), free skin graft (98 procedures), temporary tracheostomy (96 procedures), and below knee amputation (84 procedures). For the non-war-related group, the most common procedures were excisional wound debridement (341 procedures), free skin graft (122 procedures), ORIF femur (92 procedures), ORIF tibia-fibula (87 procedures), and temporary tracheostomy (72 procedures).Dr. Weeks said that within the period of 2002 to 2013, there was some fluctuation in the type of treatment being provided. She also said the fluctuation was related to the resources that were available. “I thought that when there was an uptick in war-related procedures, there would be a downtick in non-war-related procedures. But that expectation didn’t pan out, which likely occurred because when there is an increase in war-related injuries, there is an increase in the resources that become available.”The researchers found patients came in with war-related injuries tended to be younger, with a median age of 26 years, while those with non-war-related injuries had a median age of 29 years. Further, 943 (32.2 percent) of the patients with war-related injuries required a blood transfusion, while only 363 (12.7 percent) of the non-war-related patients required a blood transfusion.“These results reflect a strong commitment to provide care to those in medical need as well as a requirement for education on the principles of global surgery for deployed military surgeons,” noted the study authors.Dr. Weeks said that there is much in common between global surgery and the care provided in military treatment facilities. The researchers found that patients who came to the treatment facility for non-war-related reasons came to be treated for injuries.“For anyone familiar with global health and global surgery, we know that injury in the developing world is a huge source of morbidity and mortality,” Dr. Weeks said. “This finding tracks well what has been reported in global health in other settings.”An understanding that the surgical field and the military have much in common is the basis for the Military Health System Strategic Partnership American College of Surgeons (MHSSPACS)—launched in October 2014—which facilitates the collaboration and exchange of information between the ACS and the Military Health System.“Most Americans are unaware of the tremendous amount of humanitarian work that is being offered by our deployed military surgeons,” said M. Margaret (Peggy) Knudson, MD, FACS, Medical Director, MHSSPACS. “Because trauma surgery is one of the disciplines most needed globally, the educational efforts under development via the MHSSPACS will ensure that military surgeons of the future are well versed in caring for the injured.”Other study participants included John S. Oh, MD, FACS, and Peter A. Learn, MD, FACS.Note: Views expressed in this press release are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense and/or the U.S. Government.# # #
In Tillamook County, Ore., veterans and active-duty troops with children can access free childcare once per month thanks to Post 2848 in Tillamook. According to Post Commander Jim Allenbrand, the Post partnered with Tillamook’s Ocean Breeze Baptist Church beginning in July to offer free childcare on the first Friday of each month. “The church graciously volunteered to let us use the building,” he said. “It has a rec room with ping pong and a foosball table and even a nursery.” From 6 to 10 p.m., children ages six months to 12 years old can be cared for and entertained thanks to Allenbrand and his wife, Karen, and Auxiliary member Carol McAndrew. A Vietnam veteran, Allenbrand said there has not been much of a turnout so far. In October, one family utilized the free service. “I’m a little disappointed,” he said. “But I’m committed to continuing this program for six months.” He said members are using various advertising opportunities including radio and digital media. “We’re doing everything we can to advertise, but still struggling to get veterans with families to come out,” Allenbrand added. The Post’s Veterans Day program, which generally attracts about 400 people, will be a good time to pass out flyers, he said. While the idea behind this was for couples to get out for a night without the children, Allenbrand said it’s also ideal for parents just wanting a chance to relax at home for the evening. For more information, contact Jim or Karen Allenbrand at 503-300-0019. By Janie Dyhouse, associate editor, VFW magazine
In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, Randy Faircloth and his family have been stuck in a temporary shelter for two weeks and counting. Their home withstood the initial wrath of the storm. But when it started “moving and crackling,” Faircloth sent his wife and daughter, who has ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome, to the shelter at Purnell Swett High School in Maxton, N.C., where he joined them the following day. “(The crackling) started freaking them out,” said Faircloth, who served in the National Guard after 9/11. “We made it through the storm until the dams and levees failed and the water started rising again.” As North Carolina recovers from the intense hurricane, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is working with The American Legion and other community organizations to provide medical care, prescriptions and other aid to veterans and civilians. “It’s been great to get the medical care we need, and the assistance and the clothing,” Faircloth said. “They have been really good over here. All we had were the clothes on our backs and my dogs. “I have no idea where I would be without VA. We’d definitely be in worse condition.” The storm passed over North Carolina on Oct. 8, causing more than $1 billion in damage, leaving at least 26 people dead statewide and forcing thousands of residents from their homes as a result of floods, officials said. The Faircloth family, which moved to North Carolina from Connecticut about two years ago, now has to make another major adjustment. “It’s been very stressful for everyone in the family,” Faircloth said. “We just want to be able to get a roof over our heads again so we can get our animals back and start over because we lost everything.” As the cleanup continued last week in especially hard-hit Robeson County, near the border of South Carolina, VA staffers continued to seek out veterans and others needing assistance. VA established a mobile medical unit in Laurinburg, which provided aid to roughly 200 veterans and civilians after the storm. VA staffers make frequent visits to the temporary shelters, looking for veterans needing assistance. The shelters are organized by the Red Cross. “We come from all over,” said Bobby Franklin, a Red Cross volunteer from Ohio. “But we unify and work as one.” Mary Bauer, a registered nurse with VA in Minneapolis, was among those actively engaging with veterans at the shelters. Bauer would invite those requiring care to the medical mobile unit, where storm victims would receive an initial health assessment, medications and basic care. “We have been seeing veterans who have been displaced who have been needing services such as medical, pharmaceutical or pyscho-social needs,” she said. “We have also been seeing non-veterans, civilians who have had some health issues. Pretty much anyone who had needs, we bring through our clinic.” As an example, Bauer cited a veteran who came in with severe respiratory distress. After diagnosing him, VA staff realized he required hospital care immediately. “(Last Wednesday), he was discharged from the hospital and he stopped by the site to thank the staff for the wonderful care he received.” Frederick Williams, an emergency manager for VA, oversaw the mobile medical unit’s operations. “This is nothing new for VA to prepare for disasters,” Williams said, adding that the training for an event like the hurricane relief started months or even years ago. “But for this hurricane, we activated our incident commander center on Oct. 5 in preparation for this. When it hit on Oct. 8, we were already standing up and ready to respond to veterans’ needs and the community’s needs.” Williams said other VA offices, VISN Network, Office of Emergency Management in Washington, Cape Fear Hospital and other health-care organizations were working together. He also credited The American Legion for its role in helping get the word out about the help that was available. “All of the veterans organizations, including The American Legion (are helpful),” he said. “When we have this type of a disaster, we pull together and do what is necessary to make it happen. The American Legion helps pitch in and makes us effective in what we’re trying to do and help veterans.” Charles Hall, an Army veteran and nurse manager for the Fayetteville VA, is on site to help oversee logistics. “This has been a really rewarding experience,” Hall said. “All the patients who have come in — both veterans and non-veterans — have been treated very well. This is a very cohesive team. The way that the teams are working together is outstanding. It’s a warm fuzzy for me to see all these VA employees coming together with one mission in mind to take care of the veterans and the people in the community who need our resources.” The assistance extended to other storm victims like Henry Jacobs, of Pembroke, whose home was damaged by the storm but he didn’t need to evacuate. Instead, he bailed water out with a mop and broom. But the work and stress took a toll on the Vietnam War-era veteran. Jacobs went to his VA with pains in both arms and legs and his chest. During his exam, doctors found high blood pressure, a slow heartbeat and a kidney problem. He was also given a stress test. “I think the flooding had a lot to do with it.” Now, Jacobs is on the mend. “I’m a little sore in my chest now, but doing pretty fair,” he said. “I’m still a little concerned about it. I was treated very well by the VA. “They are number one in my book. They took care of me.” By Henry Howard
Here’s a sign of how popular the annual Military Hiring Fair in Warwick, R.I., has become — there wasn’t enough space for all the employers interested in coming to this year’s event. “We had 31 employers who wanted to be here. So we’re going to look for a bigger space,” Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian said at Tuesday’s hiring event at the Warwick National Guard Armory. Avedisian cited Hiring for Heroes’ success — over 27,000 hires at 4,000 events nationwide over the last four years — as a big reason for expanding the local event. Steve McAllister, senior manager at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, noted that last year’s event in Warwick sparked 36 same-day hires. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said he wanted to see that figure doubled, and Avedisian said he’s looking forward to 144 same-day hires. While noting that they didn’t want to turn any employers away, Jeremy Tolleson, veterans service representative for the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, said the lure of the event represented something of an ideal situation. “The event itself has that much of a draw to it that employers know they need to get here. … it goes to show that they value the job seekers, the veterans in particular, that are getting out there and are trying to find those jobs that are open that they know are out there, but they’re not really sure how to connect to them,” Tolleson said. Reed called the event a “win-win” for employers and job seekers alike. Part of the Hiring Our Heroes program through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the hiring event was presented in partnership with the Rhode Island National Guard, Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, Providence VA Medical Center, Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce and others, including The American Legion. In addition to the hiring fair for veterans, servicemembers and military spouses, the event included a workshop to help job seekers with resumes and interviews, as well as a brunch and learn workshop for employers focusing on best practices for recruiting, hiring and retaining veterans and military spouses. “I can tell you that employers and veterans alike say that this is one of the job fairs that they love because they know that every group here has at least two jobs available today,” Avedisian said. “So it’s meaningful, it’s actually tangible, it’s not just a question of handing a resume and hoping that somebody calls in the future.” Brig. Gen. Arthur Floru of the state National Guard encouraged the veterans to “answer the call again.” “We asked you to answer the call once to defend America, and now we ask you to answer the call again taking these important jobs and keeping America at the forefront of industrial expertise,” Floru said. Tolleson said events like this are critical for employer and job seekers alike. “The employers have an opportunity to not only get their name and their brand and their company out there, but also to sit one-on-one and explain what types of positions they’re looking for. So they’re able to get out here and communicate what their biggest demand is; job seekers are able to get out here and see what employers are really looking for. So (job seekers) can shape their career path either to where the demand is going or what the employer needs are,” Tolleson said. By Andy Proffet
WASHINGTON (AP) -- THE ISSUE: There are an estimated 21.6 million veterans in the United States. Among them, nearly 9 million are enrolled in health care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. About 4.3 million veterans get disability compensation from the VA and nearly 900,000 have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2014 law signed by President Barack Obama aimed to alleviate delays many veterans faced in getting treatment at VA hospitals and clinics and end the widespread practice of fake wait lists that covered up long waits for veterans seeking health care. Two years later, many of the problems remain. --- WHERE THEY STAND Hillary Clinton has pledged to ensure veterans have access to timely and high-quality health care and vows to block efforts to privatize the Veterans Health Administration, the VA's health-care arm. Clinton also wants to bolster veterans' benefits, including education and housing aid included in the GI bill. She would ensure that military sexual trauma is acknowledged as a disability under VA rules. Donald Trump says he will expand programs that allow veterans to choose their doctor - regardless of whether they're affiliated with the VA - and still receive government-paid medical care. Trump says that's not privatized care but, he told The Associated Press, "a way of not allowing people to die waiting for doctors." Trump also pledged to fire or discipline VA employees who fail veterans or breach the public trust. He also would increase mental health professionals and create a "White House hotline" dedicated to veterans. If a valid complaint is not addressed, "I will pick up the phone and fix it myself if I have to," Trump said. --- WHY IT MATTERS Lifetime health care is part of the bargain for many of those who put their lives on the line in the armed forces, and it's become clear the government isn't holding up its end. Veterans care has gained prominence since a 2014 scandal in which as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for care at a Phoenix VA hospital. Similar problems were soon discovered nationwide. Veterans waited months for care even as VA employees created secret waiting lists and other falsehoods to cover up the delays. A law approved after the scandal broke created a program that allows veterans to seek private care at government expense, but the program is limited to veterans who have waited 30 days for an appointment or live 40 miles from a VA health center. Trump says he would vastly expand the program, calling problems at the VA under President Barack Obama "widespread and totally inexcusable." Clinton says the VA must retain "the ultimate responsibility" for veterans care. She cites the Veterans Health Administration's leadership in areas such as prosthetics and traumatic brain injury. She promises to create an oversight board to monitor quality of care. Veterans groups are encouraged by the increased focus on the VA, as evidenced by a recent forum that featured both Clinton and Trump. But they say the VA must do more to improve access to health care, address veterans' suicide and change VA's culture to ensure real accountability. With nearly 370,000 employees and an annual budget of nearly $167 billion, the VA is the largest civilian agency in the government, and second overall to the Defense Department. Veterans are also a politically consequential group. Nearly 70 percent voted in the 2012 presidential election, a higher rate than the general population. --- BY MATTHEW DALYASSOCIATED PRESS
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The daughter of an Army veteran who died after visiting a troubled Veterans Affairs hospital in Wisconsin is unhappy that Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson mentioned her family's story in a campaign debate, saying Tuesday that Johnson didn't do enough to help the family although documents show he pressed the VA to look into the death. Candace Delis' father, Thomas Baer of Marshfield, died after suffering two strokes at the Tomah VA Medical Center in January 2015. He wasn't given anti-clotting medication or a CT scan because the scanner was down. A Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general's report found a doctor at Tomah failed to diagnose a stroke Baer had as he waited in the urgent care clinic but determined that the physician and staff did nothing wrong. The senator is locked in a tight race with Democrat Russ Feingold that could help determine which party controls the Senate. He mentioned both Delis and Baer during a debate with Feingold Friday in responding to questions about improving VA care. He said Delis told him that she never would have taken her father to the Tomah facility if she had known about problems there, which largely involved the overprescription of drugs. "It was almost as if he used our family," Delis said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "He re-opened a wound. He doesn't care about a veteran's family unless it directly impacts his cause as a positive." Delis approached Johnson for help shortly after her father's death. But she said Johnson failed to fulfill a promise to launch his own investigation. She also said Johnson's office refused to make calls to speed up a claim she filed against the VA. Johnson campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger disagreed, saying Johnson moved forcefully on the case. "Ron Johnson was deeply disturbed by the deaths of Wisconsin veterans like Thomas Baer, and he took immediate and effective action to uncover what happened," Reisinger said. Reisinger provided a letter from Johnson pressing the Department of Veteran Affairs to look into Baer's death weeks after it happened. Johnson also wrote in June 2015 to the VA inspector general's office complaining that the office briefed members of Congress on Baer's death before the family got information. In May of this year, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee that Johnson chairs released a report on systemic failures at Tomah. The report included a section devoted to Baer that found several shortcomings in the inspector general's attempts to substantiate the Baer family's allegations. As for not helping Delis pursue her claim, Reisinger said the Senate Ethics Committee has advised that senators shouldn't intervene in ongoing enforcement, investigative or other quasi-judicial proceedings. The Tomah facility was dubbed "Candy Land" by some veterans for its prescribing practices. Jason Simcakoski, a 35-year-old Marine veteran, died from "mixed drug toxicity" at Tomah in 2014. The VA acknowledged failures at the facility earlier this year and said it was working to prevent future problems. --- BY TODD RICHMONDASSOCIATED PRESS
VA Secretary Bob McDonald - and a broad swath of the veterans' community - is counting on MyVA to culturally transform the department. The comprehensive initiative is designed to change the way the agency does business. “We're trying to put the veteran at the center of everything we do,” McDonald says. MyVA is intended to make the agency a principles-based organization instead of one governed by the kind of rules that, in May 2015, forced a veteran with a broken foot to call 911 for assistance because a VA employee refused to help him in from his car - which was pulled up just outside the emergency room door. “MyVA encompasses health care, benefits, basically everything the VA does,” says Lt. Col. (select) Aniela Szymanski, USMCR, a MOAA deputy director for Government Relations. “It is a huge undertaking, but something had to be done.” More than 9 million veterans rely on the VA for benefits and services ranging from education and home loans to rehabilitation and health care. With more than 320,000 full-time employees staffing 167 medical centers, 863 outpatient clinics, 300 Vet Centers, 56 regional offices, nine regional loan centers, and 131 national cemeteries, if the VA were a private company, it would rank among the nation's 10 largest corporations. Instilling meaningful change on such a grand scale might seem daunting, but the private-sector perspective of the agency's new leadership, combined with input from a broad spectrum of stakeholders and community partners, is producing results. “I don't know if there's a time when there has been greater change [in the agency],” VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson says. With MyVA, the organization hopes to set a course of long-term excellence and reform and rebuild trust with veterans and their families and the American people. Improving the experience and the performance of employees is a critical element of the far-reaching initiative. So is the enhancement of strategic partnerships. “I've said it before, and I'll say it again,” McDonald says. “We cannot do this by ourselves.” At the top of the list, however, is the need to improve the veteran experience. “We've talked to thousands and thousands of veterans to put these transformation plans together,” says McDonald, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and an Army veteran who served with the 82nd Airborne Division. The feedback he received is reflected in a handful of objectives designed “to achieve meaningful near-term improvements and quick wins for veterans” while also moving the organization closer to long-term success. Among them are increased access to health care, improved community care, modernization of VA contact centers, simplification of the appeals process, and a continuing reduction of homelessness among the nation's veteran population. At a meeting of the MyVA Advisory Committee in July, held at the VA Boston Healthcare System, members of the VA's senior leadership team reported on the progress that was being made. The committee, which is chaired by retired Army Maj. Gen. Joe Robles Jr., the former president and CEO of USAA, comprises an impressive group of veterans, including, among others, the vice chancellor of Syracuse University, the head of Amazon Web Services Worldwide Public Sector, a former U.S. surgeon general, and the CEO of a $6.2 billion health care system that includes the Cleveland Clinic. In a joint statement, members of the committee noted that while much work remained, the change they had witnessed over the past 15 months - at all levels of the department - was unprecedented. Some don't think the changes are enough, though. Legislation proposed by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) would privatize the VA. In June, MOAA joined with 25 other veterans service organizations, including AMVETS and Vietnam Veterans of America, to send a joint letter to McMorris Rodgers stating their opposition to the bill. “The draft legislation is predicated on several flawed premises and, if enacted, would have immediate and permanent negative consequences for millions of veterans who choose and rely on VA health care,” the veterans' organizations wrote. MOAA also sent a letter on the topic of VA privatization to members of the Commission on Care (created under the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act) in April. In its final report to Congress, the Commission on Care rejected the concept of privatization. Although the commission's recommendations were not unanimous, support for a reformed VA with improved care in the community was recommended. A veteran-centric approach Since the access crisis in Phoenix, the VA has handled millions more appointments annually, both within its facilities and out in the community. And, as Dr. David Shulkin, VA undersecretary of health, told the advisory committee in Boston, 97 percent of those appointments now are completed within 30 days of the veteran's preferred date. Thirty-four medical centers, he said, now offer access to same-day primary care, and as of April, 90 percent of mental health patients are seen within seven days. Only 14 percent of community psychiatrists can match that, he noted. The VA also is finding innovative ways to serve veterans, from a new prosthetic arm developed in conjunction with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and adaptive sports programs to telehealth services that deliver much-needed mental health care services. “This isn't happening in the private sector because it's not cost-effective,” Shulkin said. “We are by far the largest user of telehealth in the country. No one else comes close.” The VA is changing the way it communicates with veterans - and the way veterans are able to communicate with the VA. McDonald even has made available his cellphone number: (513) 509-8454. “I'm hoping that veterans are finding us to be more accessible than perhaps we have been in the past,” he says. Forms are being simplified. Letters are being translated into plain English. Call centers have opened. As of June 30, veterans now have the option of a true digital enrollment process, which takes an average of only 24 minutes to complete. A mobile app allowing veterans to schedule appointments quickly and easily will be released soon. Szymanski - who, at MOAA, often helps veterans navigate the system, while at home helping her father, a Vietnam veteran, do the same thing - looks forward to the day the VA's new website, www.vets.gov, fulfills its promise of being the only website needed to access all VA services and benefits. At this point, it's still a work in progress. The VA also is well on its way to creating 100 community veteran engagement boards as a way to leverage all community assets - not just those of the agency - to meet the needs of local veterans. “Those are a way of reaching veterans in a positive way and improving the way that they see [the] VA - as a partner instead of an uncaring bureaucracy,” Szymanski says. The pace of change “Access continues to be the biggest issue, but solving it in a way that does not erode the quality of care is ultimately what veterans want and what our organization seeks to achieve,” says Carlos Fuentes, deputy director of the National Legislative Service atVeterans of Foreign Wars. “Overwhelmingly, veterans are satisfied with the care they receive. Our surveys have determined that 87 percent of veterans who use VA health care would recommend it to their fellow veterans. The quality is undisputed.” “The challenge we have isn't to provide a quality experience. We do that,” Gibson told the advisory committee in Boston. “The problem is with the system surrounding the care.” In the past, inadequate attention was paid to training, leader development, and succession planning. Leaders rarely even talked to employees. VA leadership now is actively trying to engage VA employees in the transformation process and is cultivating transparency and accountability throughout the organization. A dynamic program - Leaders Develop Leaders - is facilitating the necessary change of culture at all levels. Comprehensive planning is in place, based on a high-performance organization model, and out-of-date technology is being replaced. “Unfortunately, Congress's inability to move key pieces of legislation has really slowed up the transformative change that MyVA is all about,” says Bill Rausch, executive director of Got Your 6, referring to the Veterans First Act, which received full bipartisan support from the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee but has yet to be brought to the floor for a vote. “There's legislation sitting on the Hill that would allow the VA to provide better service to more veterans across the country, and no one is taking action to push it though.” “We have all this commentary about veterans in the political cycle,” McDonald says. “It's troubling to me because the fundamental work is not being done. I don't like veterans being used as political pawns.” “It is a team effort,” Fuentes says. “We need the support of [the] VA, the veterans' community, and Congress to be able to enact the change that's necessary to rebuild trust and confidence.” “The VA has opened up their apparatus to ask stakeholders - to ask veterans - what they need, what they want,” Rausch says. “Because [Secretary McDonald] has put the veteran at the core of every decision that's being made, I'm confident - if Congress would support the MyVA initiatives - that the VA will be well on its way to becoming a world-class organization that every veteran would proudly call 'my VA.'” By: Christina Wood