Dear Editorial Board,
I read, with great interest, your “Opinion Page” Editorial from July 7, 2016: “Heal the V.A. (But First, Do No Harm)”. I was directed to your Article through the Vietnam Veterans of America’s newsletter (via email). As a consumer of the Veterans Health Administration’s (V.H.A.) product, I found it refreshing that someone in the mainstream Press is finally starting to get to the root problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
For the past six years, I have been attempting to come up with a solution to these problems in order to keep the V.A. alive and well. The purpose this Agency serves for Veterans is one to be thoroughly understood before a “fix” can ever be concocted and implemented. It may be difficult for a non-Veteran to fully understand why the V.A. needs to exist. The answer to this question comes best from a Veteran, and not from a bureaucrat or bean counter.
The V.A., especially the V.H.A., is sacred ground when it comes to the Medical and Mental Health needs of Veterans. There is a pervasive feeling that, once having served in the Military, there is little in the way of understanding between Veterans, civilians, and the private medical/mental health sector. Veterans feel more at ease in a setting filled with other Veterans (people who “get” them).
From my perspective, a bottom up look at fixing the V.A. is the only appropriate avenue of approach. Top management problems in this bureaucracy are only symptoms. The root causes lie in the very structure of this behemoth. Secretary Bob McDonald and his Staff are working with a structure from the 1930’s and trying to utilize 21st Century protocols and regimens. It’s a little like trying to mix oil and water. To truly change the V.A. toward the best interests of our Veterans, one needs to change the antiquated structure that leads to a culture of arrogance, indifference, abuse, inefficiency, and chaos.
Unfortunately, Congress does not have twenty years to attempt a transformation of this system. Best practices would dictate the immediate assembly of qualified Hospital Administrators to reconfigure the parts that currently exist and add, or subtract, parts where necessary. It may also help to include a working Veterans Advisory group that mirrors the common U.S. Military Veteran. In his testimony to the Congressional Commission on Care, Secretary Johnson admitted; “We know we can’t complete the job without help from our partners. For that reason, I look forward to continuing to work with Congress, Veteran advocates, and Veterans themselves to identify further ways to improve the VA.” Why not get started right now?