Barbara's Beat: Thanks to all Veterans who serve our country

Friday, November 11, 2016

Thanks to all Veterans who serve our country

It's not often that we actually take time to say thank you to the men and women who have served, and are serving our country to keep us safe. I want to thank all of you.

What some people don't understand is the sacrifices you and your family make. If wars aren't stopped overseas, they will come to the United States. That will be a much tougher war to fight.

VA Introduces This Week at VA
Weekly Podcast features interviews with Veterans

As part of its ongoing effort to engage and reach out to Veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a podcast titled “This Week at VA.” The podcast will be produced weekly. Each episode will include information on benefits or products, interviews with Veterans, a highlighted Veteran of the Day and other helpful content. This week’s show features an interview with VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald.

“This Week at VA highlights the department’s commitment to delivering valuable information to the Veteran community through real stories of the Veteran experience,” said McDonald.

The “This Week at VA” podcast will act as another platform to communicate with Veterans, their families and stakeholders. There are currently three episodes available for listening that spotlight Marine Veteran Haley Carter, Army Veteran Francisco Urena and Army Veteran Fred Wellman.
The podcast is available on VA’s VAntage Point blog under the This Week at VA Podcast category and on iTunes. Be sure to subscribe in iTunes for updates each week when new episodes are released.

The podcast adds to the number of innovative ways VA communicates directly with Veterans and their families. VA has a robust presence on social media, with more than 150 Facebook pages, most of which belong to individual VA medical centers. VA’s digital presence also includes the VAntage Point blog, nearly 100 Twitter feeds, Instagram, a Flickr page containing more than 32,000 photos, and a YouTube channel with nearly 1000 videos, which has amassed over 5.6 million views.
To access and connect to VA’s social media sites, visit VA’s social media directory at

VA Celebrates New Strategic Partnerships
Partnerships Affirm VA’s Commitment to Engaging 
External Organizations to Support Veterans 

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced nine new strategic partnerships that will provide additional health care and support services for Veterans and their families.  These new formal relationships are the latest in a series of strategic partnerships developed to bring the private and public sectors together with VA to enhance the Veteran experience.

“Strategic partnerships allow us to expand the reach of services available for Veterans and their families,” said Secretary Robert A. McDonald.  “Since we’ve named strategic partnerships as one of our five MyVA strategies, I’m happy to report we’ve established partnerships at unprecedented rate to tackle a myriad of different Veteran needs.”

The following partnerships were announced:
  • Cardinal Health.  Through their “Operation: Support our Heroes project,” Cardinal Health has pledged to donate 2,000 care packages (consisting of toiletries and other personal hygiene items), as well as other consumer health products to VA facilities for distribution to homeless Veterans.  The program is being piloted at 9 VA facilities across the country, including several in the Midwest, parts of the Southwest, and California.
  • Downs Designs Dreams.  Downs Designs Dreams works to design and develop clothing specifically designed for individuals with disabilities.  VA has partnered with Downs Designs Dreams to put these tailored designs in the hands of Veterans with disabilities. To date, Downs Designs Dreams has already donated 166 pairs of jeans to Veterans through this partnership, representing an investment of $8,610.
  • Dream Foundation.  Dream Foundation is dedicated to honoring our Veterans’ service by fulfilling their final Dream, providing them, their families and caregivers inspiration, comfort and closure at the end of life. Through this partnership, VA social work staff will coordinate referrals to support Dream fulfilment for Veterans experiencing life-limited illnesses.
  • First Quality Enterprises. First Quality Enterprises is an American manufacturer of absorbent hygiene (adult incontinence, feminine care, and baby care), tissue (bath and towel), and industrial (non-woven fabrics, print and packaging materials, thermoformed plastics) products, serving institutional and retail markets throughout the world. First Quality is teaming up with the VA to donate baby products to pregnant women Veterans through VA’s maternity care coordinators. 
  • Hair Cuttery.  In partnership with VA, Hair Cuttery is sponsoring their annual “Share-A-Haircut” program.  For every adult haircut purchased in any Hair Cuttery salon on Veterans Day, Nov 11th, Hair Cuttery will donate 2 free haircut certificates for VA patients who may otherwise be unable to get this type of professional service.  All Hair Cuttery locations are participating and will honor the certificates through January 25, 2017.
  • The Jonas Center for Nursing and Veterans Healthcare.  The Jonas Center is dedicated to improving Veterans health by developing outstanding nursing researchers, educators and clinical leaders. This partnership builds and supports a network of current and former VA Jonas Nursing Scholars to focus on Veteran-specific healthcare needs. 
  • NCR Corporation.  This year’s Veteran’s Day parade features NCR’s self-service kiosks in New York, N.Y. and Los Angeles, Calif. developed by NCR especially for Veterans.  It provides a point-of-service for all veterans (rural, homeless, economically disadvantaged, and medically disabled) and their spouses and dependents, via NCR’s world-class self-service technology. 
  • Project Hero.  Project Hero is national nonprofit that saves lives by providing hope, recovery, and resilience for Veterans focusing on physical and psychological rehabilitation programs.  Through this partnership, VA Mental Health and Recreation Therapy resources will be made available to Veterans participating in Project Hero’s “Ride 2 Recovery” research programs.
  • United Through Reading (UTR). UTR unites families facing physical separation by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud together. They offer an opportunity for military service members and Veterans to video record a book for children or grandchildren who are located elsewhere. The child receives a copy of the book with the video to read along. The first Veteran site to participate is Honolulu, Hawaii, and they have readings leading up to Veterans Day.
This latest round of partnerships reflects the growing number of success VA has achieved over the last eighteen months.  By nurturing and maturing these relationships, VA is able to help focus the Nation’s powerful support and goodwill for Veterans and their families. In the last 18 months, VA’s partnerships and collaborations have brought in more than $300 million in investments and in-kind services to support America’s veterans.

“Our Veterans have honorably – and voluntarily - served our Nation.  Now it’s our turn to provide them a quality of life that matches that service” said Matthew S. Collier, Senior Advisor for Strategic Partnerships.  “The VA will never be able to achieve that on our own, but we can bring together good partners who want to fill in the gaps.”

VA Releases Major Report on Progress of “MyVA” Transformation Process
Multi-year Effort Showing Measurable Improvements 
in Homelessness, Health Care, Claims

Today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a major update on the MyVA transformation, Secretary McDonald’s effort to transform VA into the top customer service agency in the federal government. This third edition of the program’s semi-annual report shows progress serving veterans with more services, in better time. 

“Guided by Veterans’ needs, we’ve left old, unresponsive ways of doing business behind,” writes Secretary Robert McDonald. “We’ve changed leadership. We’ve added staff. We’ve adjusted policies. We’re eliminating bureaucracy and unproductive work. We’re encouraging inno­vative approaches to serving Veterans, and we’re sharing best practices across the Department. In short, we’re making VA the high-performing organization that it can be, and that my fellow Veterans, expect and deserve.”

Key results in the report include:
  • Veteran trust of VA is on the rise. In June 2016, nearly 60% of veterans said they trust VA to fulfill our country’s commitment to Veterans – from 47% in December 2015.
  • We are completing more appointments, faster. In FY 2016, VA completed nearly 58 million appointments – 1.2 million more than in FY 2015 and 3.2 million more than FY 2014. More of them are provided by a network of more than 350,000 community providers – a 45% increase in the number of providers since last year.
  • Processing of disability claims is faster and more accurate, too. The average wait time to complete a claim has dropped by 65%, to 123 days. We completed nearly 1.3 million claims in FY 2016, and reduced pending claims by almost 90%.
  • Urgent care is available when a Veteran needs it, and for non-urgent appointments, wait times are down. By September 2016, the average wait time for a completed appointment was down to less than 5 days for primary care, less than 7 days for specialty care, and less than 3 days for mental health care.
  • Veteran homelessness has been cut in half; it’s down 47% since 2010 nationwide, thanks in part to VA’s work with nearly 4,000 public and private agencies.
  • In the last 18 months, VA has facilitated dozens more collaborations, bringing in more than $300 million in investments and in-kind services to support America’s veterans.
  • Quality is improving. 82% of VA facilities improved quality overall since the fourth quarter of FY 2015.
The report details the changes and innovations, large and small, which produced these results. It also lays out a path forward for the agency – including an important role for Congress before the end of 2016.

Read the full report online here

VA, Social Security Partner to Speed Up Disability Decisions for Vets
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) launched a new Health IT initiative that enables VA to share medical records electronically with social security disabilty processors. This secure process will save time and money resulting in better service for Veterans and dependents who apply for social security disability benefits. The SSA requests nearly 15 million medical records from health care organizations yearly to make medical decisions on about three million disability claims. For decades, SSA obtained medical records through a manual process.  This new national initiative puts in place an automated process to obtain Veterans’ medical records entirely electronically.

 “VA’s partnership with Social Security will ultimately improve the quality of life for Veterans and their dependents by enabling Veterans to share their health information within a safe and secure health-related consumer application,” said Dr. David Shulkin, VA’s Under Secretary for Health.
The joint venture is expected to significantly speed up social security disability decisions, utilizing VA’s VLER Health Exchange under the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) Program. The VLER Health Exchange gives VA and participating community providers the ability to retrieve Veterans’ health information from each other for the purpose of treatment. Currently, VLER Health Exchange shares health data with over 79 community health care partners, representing 775 Hospitals, 427 Federally Qualified Health Centers, 142 Nursing Homes, 8441 Pharmacies and over 11,969 Clinics. The SSA now has access for the purpose of processing benefits for Veterans and their dependents.

“This SSA-VA partnership is another example of VA’s leadership in interoperability efforts among federal partners,” said VA Secretary, Robert McDonald. “Increasing federal partnerships to improve operation and resource coordination across agencies is among VA’s 12 Breakthrough Priorities for 2016.”

 VA has partnership agreements with Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Treasury (DOT) among many others.

To learn more about VA health care visit:

 VA Expands New Innovators Network Program
The Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Innovation (VACI) is expanding its Innovators Network Program. Fourteen new VA Medical Center innovation sites and one National Cemetery innovation site will join the eight selected last year, for a total of 22 recognized innovation sites across the country. The sites were selected from a highly competitive pool of 44 sites from across the country. The selection was based on a review of 12 parameters, including: proposed Veteran-centered approach; plans to empower and engage employees and collaboration with local infrastructure enablers.

The VA Center for Innovation identifies, tests and evaluates new approaches to efficiently and effectively meet the current and future needs of Veterans through innovations rooted in data, design-thinking and agile development. Each of the Network sites is focused on building a culture of innovation to support employees working with input from Veterans to design and develop new innovations to better serve Veterans and their families.

“VA continues to increase its ability to rapidly respond to Veterans’ needs and deliver the best possible experience for Veterans. We have invested in creating a culture of innovation which we can constantly find, test and create better ways to deliver services to our Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert McDonald.

The Network began as a pilot in early 2015 and seeks to build and empower a community of VA employees who are actively engaged in innovation. The Network has been a tremendous success in developing VA’s culture of innovation, empowering employees to improve the experience and care of our Veterans, and successfully funding transformational innovations that significantly reduce costs and improve the care and services available to Veterans. The Network program and Innovation Specialists – dedicated staff at each innovation site – have trained over 1,300 VA employees on innovation-related competencies to help them first recognize, and then solve problems that are negatively impacting or preventing Veterans from receiving the care and services.

To support initiatives, the VA Innovators Network creates a pathway to accelerate the development of new, reimagined experiences for Veterans and their families. The accelerator has invested in 38 projects across the VA. Two of its biggest, Technology-Based Eye Care Screening from the Atlanta VA and the Care in the Community Tool from the Portland VA project to save over $20 million over the next five years and improve Veterans access to services and care.

The following sites have been selected as Innovators Network Sites for 2017:
  • Albany Stratton VA Medical Center, Albany, N.Y.
  • Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, Cleveland, Ohio
  • Grand Junction VA Healthcare System, Grand Junction, Colo.
  • Hines VA Medical Center, Chicago, Ill.
  • Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center, Richmond, Va.
  • Lebanon VA Medical Center, Lebanon Pa.
  • Lexington VA Medical Center, Lexington, Ky.
  • VA Loma Linda Healthcare System, Loma Linda, Calif.
  • New Mexico VA Healthcare System
  • Puget Sound VA Healthcare System, Seattle Wash.
  • VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, Calif.
  • South Texas Healthcare System, San Antonio, Texas
  • Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
  • White River Junction VA Medical Center, White River Junction, Vt.
  • Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minn
For more information go to

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