Fresh Start At The VA

Alvin Powell | Harvard Gazette | November 25, 2014

New head of federal agency looks to put system’s troubles behind

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Robert McDonald says the troubled agency is making slow progress in getting its house in order, citing more — and more timely — appointments and authorizations to see private doctors for veterans who live far from VA hospitals.  McDonald was confirmed in July to take over the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs after a scandal at the Phoenix VA hospital revealed enormous wait lists for appointments, resulting in delayed treatment that may have cost lives.

McDonald, speaking at Harvard Law School on Monday, said that from May to September the VA had 1.2 million more appointments than during the same period a year earlier, and 98 percent of them were completed within 30 days of the patient’s preferred time. On top of that, he said, between May and November, 1.5 million authorizations were made for private care — a 50 percent increase over the same period a year earlier — for veterans who lived far from a VA clinic or hospital. The department also is reorganizing and building more facilities.  “I think the VA is heading in a new direction, and I would argue the right direction, and making progress,” McDonald said.

Among ongoing issues, he described a “critical shortage” of doctors and nurses, and the need to provide better facilities for women, who are a growing part of the nation’s armed forces, and hence of its veterans.  McDonald, a former president and chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble, said that a big part of the shift has to include a heightened focus on customer service, and he’s hoping to bring on a 30-year Disney executive to help...