There’s hope for the VA this Veterans Day

Yesterday, during my monthly visit to the VA clinic for a methadone refill, I stopped to think of just how drastically the patient population at the facility had changed over the years.

There are still grayed and sometimes feeble veterans of World War II although that population is shrinking rapidly through attrition by time. The same is happening with Korean War veterans. And my generation, those vets of the Vietnam War and that era, are still in great number even though we too are getting gray and sometimes moving about much slower.

What struck me as I waited on a visit to my PA was the number of women who were getting called into the primary care practitioners’ offices, and they weren’t just those accompanying their veteran husbands. Likewise the faces of men seem younger and younger. Some may have lost limbs from roadside bombs although those disabilities are getting more difficult to spot because of better prosthesis and post-battlefield care. Sadly, there too are the growing numbers of young men and women who carry the burden of post traumatic stress disorder, the silent and sometimes crippling mental wound.

Much has been written lately about the significant failures discovered in the Department of Veterans Affairs. As one who has written professionally about the VA over the years and my status as a veteran who uses VA for health care, such problems are not so shocking. I had hoped when the President appointed former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki that the twice-wounded and one-time commander of the 1st Cavalry Division would set the VA straight on its shortcomings. I include both the benefits administration and well the health administration.

Sadly, that didn’t happen. Shinseki wasn’t responsible for all the problems about which employees blew whistles to the media. Still, the general failed his assignment.

I hope, as I do whenever a new VA secretary is chosen, that Bob McDonald will cause marked improvements to the VA. The West Point grad and retired head of Proctor and Gamble is talking a good game. Although, many leaders of troubled organizations often do that.

McDonald has laid out some explicit changes for the VA. Among these are: “Establishing a single regional framework that will simplify internal coordination, facilitate partnering and enhance customer service. This will allow Veterans to more easily navigate VA without having to understand our inner structure,” says a VA blog post on its Website.

That might mean little to those without a great knowledge of the VA organization. However, if this change is made — once all the corporate-speak is overlooked — this could make for a significant transformation in how the VA does business.

While it may seem apples to oranges when thinking about the VA shortfalls such as long waits for doctors this could translate to better and faster care down at the patient level. Think about it. Remove a whole extra, unneeded level and who knows what possible good might come.

I may be wrong. I have been many times before. But on this day of remembering veterans I think the VA could be on the course for better service in its health care, benefits and, yes, even in its cemeteries the VA maintains. That is my hope, at least. Those who fought and served before me gave us all the opportunity to hope. So why not take that chance?

Happy Veterans Day.