Tuesday, August 11, 2015

VA Making Progress to Improve Service for Veterans

I received this as I'm on the Veterans Advisory Board of the Madison VA Hospital. ~Bob

VA Making Progress to Improve Service for Veterans

Caring for our Nation’s Veterans, their Survivors, and dependents continues to be the guiding mission of VA. Under the leadership of Secretary Bob McDonald and Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, VA has charted a path forward and made significant progress to enhance our health care system, improve service delivery and set the course for long-term reform. As Secretary McDonald wrote in the Baltimore Sun, “Veterans need VA and many more Americans benefit from VA.”

Continued Excellence in Service

 For the fifth consecutive year, VA’s Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy received the highest customer satisfaction score among the nation’s public and private mail-order pharmacies, according to a J.D. Power study.

 Since 2004, the independent American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey has shown Veterans give VA health care higher ratings than most private hospital patients.

 VA trains 120,000 healthcare professionals a year, more than any system in the Nation. An estimated 70% of all U.S. doctors have trained with VA.

 VA employee Kenneth Siehr, winner of the President’s 2013 Securing Americans Value  and Efficiency (SAVE) Award, conceived of VA’s online prescription tracker that gives Veterans 24/7 access to prescriptions mailed from the VA Mail Order Pharmacy. Siehr’s idea focused on the use of technology as a way to save money and improve the services VA provides to its patients.

 VA guarantees 2 million home loans—with the lowest foreclosure rate and highest satisfaction rate in mortgage lending.

 For the fifth consecutive time, VA’s National Cemetery Administration topped the ACSI survey of customer satisfaction.

 In 2014, VA’s Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery was listed as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world in an article appearing in both Smithsonian Magazine and Travel and Leisure.

Increasing Transparency and Accountability

 The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) began publicly posting patient access data online in June 2014. VA provides this access-to-care information to Veterans and the public knowing that transparency and accountability would help improve care for Veterans over time.

 On his first visit to the Phoenix VA last August, Secretary McDonald announced that every VA medical center would undergo an independent review of scheduling and access practices by The Joint Commission, the nation's oldest and largest standards-
setting and accrediting body in health care.

 Medical center directors are required to ensure that all VA staff with scheduling privileges complete mandatory scheduler training and that scheduling operations are reviewed regularly.

 In the aftermath of Phoenix, Secretary McDonald instructed all VA facilities to hold town hall meetings quarterly to engage Veterans and improve the delivery of benefits and services.

 In 2014, VA established the Office of Accountability Review (OAR) to ensure leadership accountability for improprieties related to patient scheduling and access to care, whistleblower retaliation, and related matters that impact public trust in VA.

o VA has terminated more than 1,495 employees since Secretary McDonald was confirmed on July 29, 2014. (Note: this includes removals and probationary terminations.)

o VA has proposed disciplinary action related to data manipulation or patient care against more than 130 employees nationwide.

 Since June 2014, 91 percent of VA medical facilities have new leaders or leadership teams.

 The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) certified VA under their Whistleblower Protection Certification Program after VA worked to achieve compliance and protect employees who identify or report problems from unlawful retaliation.

 As of April 2015, VA has worked closely with OSC to provide relief for over 45 VA employees who have filed whistleblower retaliation including three individuals at the VA Phoenix Health Care System.

Expanding Access to Care

 Nationally, VA completed more than 51.8 million appointments between June 1, 2014 and April 30, 2015. This represents an increase of 2.7 million more  appointments than were completed during the same time period in 2013/2014.

 In April 2015, VA completed 97 percent of appointments within 30 days of the clinically indicated or Veteran’s preferred date; 93% within 14 days; 88% within 7 days; and 22% are actually completed on the same day.

 Average wait time for completed primary care appointments is 4 days, specialty care 5 days, and mental health care 3 days.

 While the number of Veterans using VA for care has grown about 2% per year, many locations where space, staffing, productivity, and community care enhancements have been emphasized are growing at multiples of that rate. For example, from 2012 to 2014 Las Vegas has seen the number of patients they are caring for grow 18%, Hampton, VA 16%, Portland, OR and Fayetteville, NC 13%, and Denver 10%.

 More Veterans are coming to VA for their care even though 81% have Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, or private insurance.

 In Fiscal Year 2014, the Veterans Health Administration activated 80 new leases totaling 1.3 million square feet and activated new owned facilities totaling 420 thousand square

 Where possible, the number of primary care exam rooms per provider has been increased allowing the provider to see more Veterans each day

Providing More Care in the Community

 VA made over 2.8 million authorizations for Veterans to receive care in the private sector from June 1, 2014 through May 15, 2015. This represents a 45% increase in authorizations, when compared to the same period in the previous years. This will result in millions of additional episodes of care for Veterans

 Over 1 million appointments are completed per month through doctors and clinics in the community, which represents nearly 20 percent of total appointments.

Recruiting and Hiring Health New Professionals

 VA has increased salaries for physicians and dentists to close the pay gap with the private sector and to make VA an employer of choice.

 Since April 2014, VA has increased onboard staff 12,179, including 1,086 Physicians, 2,724 Nurses, and 4,671 other select critical occupations.

 Turnover of about 9% continues to compare favorably to private sector healthcare turnover of 18% allowing hiring activity to result in net staff increase.

 Over 2,000 medical center staff have been hired using funding from the Choice Act. Transforming the Customer Service Experience Through MyVA

 VA is working to reorganize the department for success, guided by ideas and initiatives from Veterans, employees, and all of our shareholders. This reorganization is a part of the MyVA initiative and is designed to provide Veterans with a seamless, integrated, and responsive customer service experience.

 The Department developed the Blue Print for Excellence - a detailed vision of how VA will evolve as a model national health care provider delivering both excellent health care and an excellent experience of care to all Veterans served.

 Under MyVA, the department has created a single regional framework to enhance services. In March, VA established the MyVA Advisory Committee, made up of skilled experts from the private, non-profit and government sectors that advise the Secretary  with a focus on improving customer service, Veteran outcomes and setting the course  for long-term reform and excellence.

Expanding Access to Benefits

 VA increased to nearly 5 million the number of Veterans and Survivors receiving monthly compensation and pension benefits.

 Under authority from VACAA, VA expanded eligibility for Veterans in need of mental health care due to military sexual trauma (MST).

 VA expanded the eligibility criteria for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits under the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship to the children and surviving spouses of Servicemembers who died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001.

 VA extended the Assisted Living Pilot Program for Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury (AL-TBI) through October 2017 and awarded 20 contracts in 27 states.

Leading the Way in Reducing Drug-Resistant Health Care-Associated Infections

 Health care-associated infections, or HAIs, pose a major risk to patient safety, and hospital systems across the country are striving to prevent them.

 A recent article in The New York Times noted that in comparison to other hospital systems, VA is making great strides in reducing one of the most significant causes of HAIs—methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

 Within five years, health-care associated MRSA infections declined 69 percent in VA acute care facilities, 81 percent in Spinal Cord Injury units, and 36 percent in Community Living Centers.

 The VA MRSA Prevention Initiative continues today, and has been expanded to focus on other multiple drug-resistant organisms that threaten our Veterans. National Leader in Telehealth Services

 VA is national leader in telehealth services. VA Telehealth services are critical to expanding access to VA care in more than 45 clinical areas.

 At the end of Fiscal Year 2014 12.7 percent of all Veterans enrolled for VA care received Telehealth based care. This includes over 2 million telehealth visits, touching 700,000 Veterans.

Impacting Millions Through VA Research

 VA Research and Development plays a pivotal role in improving the health status of Veterans and countless other Americans for generations to come.

 During fiscal year 2015, nearly 3,400 VA researchers will work on more than 2,200 projects, with funding of more than $1.8 billion.

Building for the Future

 In 2014, VA completed 17 major construction projects and started 17 new projects.

 VA activated 93 buildings, which resulted in 1.4 million additional square feet for clinical, mental health, long-term care facilities, and administrative space.

Changing Lives Through the GI Bill

 VA celebrated the 70th anniversary of the GI Bill of Rights in 2014. Since the inception of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2009, more than $50 billion has been paid to nearly 1.4 million Veterans and their dependents.

 Over 21 million home loans have been guaranteed by VA since 1944 as part of the original “GI Bill.”

 In FY14, VA guaranteed 440,000 home loans totaling $100 billion, while also helping 80,000 Veterans avoid foreclosure, saving taxpayers over $2.7 billion.

 VA has maintained the lowest foreclosure rate (1.4%) in the industry for 25 of the last 27 consecutive quarters when compared to all other types of home loans.

Ending the Claims Backlog

 The claims backlog has been reduced from peak of 611,000 in March 2013 to 140,703 this week, a 77% reduction in 26 months.

 Claim-level accuracy increased from 83% in 2011 to 91% - issue-level accuracy is 96%.

 VA completed a record-breaking 1.32 million claims in fiscal year 2014

 Veterans are waiting, on average, 156 days less for a claim decision compared to March 2013 peak

Reducing the Number of Homeless Veterans

 VA, together with federal, state, and local partners, reduced the estimated number of homeless Veterans by 33 percent as noted in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 2014 Point-in-Time (PIT) Estimate of Homelessness.

 Through the homeless Veterans initiative, VA committed more than $1 billion in 2014 to strengthen programs that prevent and end homelessness among Veterans.

 In FY 2014 alone, VA provided services to more than 260,000 homeless or at-risk Veterans in VHA’s homeless programs. Not all Veterans required an intensive homeless program intervention, but for those that did, over 72,000 Veterans were either placed in permanent housing or prevented from becoming homeless.

Ending Veteran Homelessness in Los Angeles

 On January 28, 2015, Secretary McDonald and attorneys representing homeless veterans in Los Angeles announced a historic agreement that dedicates the West Los Angeles VA campus to serving veterans in need.

 VA published a written Veteran homelessness strategy and action plan for Greater Los Angeles on February 13, 2015 with the goal of ending Veteran homelessness in Greater Los Angeles by the end of the year. A new Master Plan for VA’s West Los Angeles campus will be completed by October 16, 2015. Improving Healthcare Services for Women Veterans

 VA has enhanced provision of care to women Veterans by focusing on the goal of developing Designated Women’s Health Providers (DWHP) at every site where women access VA. VA has trained over 2,000 providers in women’s health and is in the process of training additional providers to ensure that every woman Veteran has the opportunity to receive her primary care from a DWHP.

 VA now operates a Women Veterans Call Center (WVCC), created to contact women Veterans and let them know about the services for which they may be eligible. As of March 2015, WVCC received over 20,000 incoming calls and made over 162,000 successful outbound calls.

 VA accomplished its goal of expanding eligibility for Veterans in need of mental health care due to military sexual trauma (MST) experiences of sexual assault or sexual harassment that occurred during their military service. All MST-related health care is provided free of charge with no need for the Veteran to file a disability claim Increasing Patient Safety & Reducing Prescription Drug Abuse

VA has a comprehensive program for the management of chronic pain that includes the safe, well-managed use of opioids, complementary and integrative medicine with a focus on identifying and expanding the use of best practices across VA.

 VA is accelerating the deployment of Opioid Therapy Risk Report, a state-of-the-art tool to help protect Veteran patients from high doses of opioids. VA also implemented the Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI) system-wide in August 2013 to enhance safe and effective pain care for Veterans and reduce opioid use.

 From the fiscal quarter beginning in July 2012 (pre-implementation baseline period) to the fiscal quarter ending in December 2014 there are:

o 91,614 fewer patients receiving opioids

o 29,281 fewer patient receiving opioids with benzodiazepines

o 71,255 more patients on opioids that have had a urine drug screen to help guide treatment decisions

o 67,466 fewer patients on long-term opioid therapy.

o 10,143 fewer patients are receiving greater than or equal to 100 Morphine Equivalent Daily Dosing.

 To increase patient safety, VA recently completed implementation of Patient Centric Prescription Label benefitting over 5 million Veterans receiving VA prescriptions.

(NOTE: These reductions occurred at the same time VA experienced a 75,843 increase in the number of patients who utilized VHA outpatient pharmacy services.) Improving Delivery of Benefits Through Digital Innovation

 Under VA’s technology initiatives, one major achievement has been its transition from an outmoded paper-intensive process to a fully electronic processing system, the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS).

 Previously VA processed 5,000 tons of paper per year; now it is processing 94 percent of the disability claims inventory electronically.

 VA completed 2.9 million rating decisions and 1.5 million claims using VBMS.

 VA continues to exceed goals with regard to Fully Developed Claims. In FY 2014, 41 percent of claims received were submitted as Fully Developed Claims, up from 3 percent at initiative start in 2012.

 Over 4.6 million Servicemembers, Veterans, and family members in eBenefits.

 NCA achieved a customer satisfaction index of 96, the highest ACSI score in either the private or public sector in the history of the survey.

Strengthening Partnerships with Stakeholders

 Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) continue to meet monthly with the Secretary McDonald and VA senior leaders. In the summer of 2014, then Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson issued a directive for every VA Medical Center Director to meet with local VSO leadership.

 VA has been transparent and responsive in providing Congress information and briefings on key matters. From fiscal year 2014 through the second quarter of fiscal year 2015, VA has conducted 835 briefings with Members and staff, answered nearly 4,600 requests for information, appeared at 107 hearings, supported 479 requests for technical assistance on legislation, and answered nearly 35,000 casework inquiries. Additionally, VA supported 80 Congressional oversight visits.

 In February 2015, Secretary McDonald hosted the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committee at VA headquarters for a briefing on progress to expand access to care along with a town hall meeting with VA employees.

 VA sought and received input from VSOs on the purchase of a new Medical Appointment Scheduling System to ensure the “voice of the veteran” was included.

 VA established a centralized triage system to more effectively develop, evaluate and report on new strategic partnerships.

Looking Forward

While we recognize these achievements for Veterans, we continue to tackle the challenges of the department and embrace the opportunities for transformation that they bring.

To achieve lasting success for the department, VA must develop a strategy for meeting an increased demand for services and benefits, and for meeting the needs of a changing Veteran population. This includes preparing for the increasing numbers of women Veterans coming to  VA for care; looking at the unique needs of post-9/11 Veterans; and using innovative approaches to reach every Veteran who needs services.

By focusing on rebuilding trust, putting the Veteran first, and setting the course for longer-term excellence and reform – VA will continue to improve and better serve our Veterans and the American people.

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