AMVETS in Action

Category: Press Release

Purple Heart Recipients Object to Award of Medal to Oklahoma City Bombing Victims

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, DC May 4, 2015

Purple Heart Recipients Object to Award of Medal to Oklahoma City Bombing Victims

The Military Order of the Purple Heart of the USA, a Veteran Service Organization composed exclusively of combat wounded servicemen and women who received the Purple Heart medal for their service and sacrifice on the battlefield against the enemies of the United States, is dismayed by and adamantly opposed to an amendment to the 2016 NDAA, introduced in Congress by Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK) to award the Purple Heart medal to victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

While the MOPH is sympathetic to the loss suffered by the families and friends of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, and especially those who were serving at the time in the Armed Forces of the U.S. it cannot support or condone award of America’s oldest and most venerated combat decoration for an act of pure domestic violence. The attack on the Federal Building which killed 168 peopleand injured more than 680 others on April 19, 1995 was carried out by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols solely in retaliation for a perceived Federal Government mishandling of the 1993 siege of Ruby Ridge, and was timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the deadly fire that ended the siege in Waco, TX.

The criteria for award of the Purple Heart medal has been constant and clear – it is awarded only to those who are killed or wounded in combat. In recent years the criteria has been extended to accommodate a change in warfare that has brought the battlefield to our own shores in the form of international terrorism. The MOPH has fully supported award of the Purple Heart to victims in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and the 2009 Ft. Hood, TX, and the Little Rock AR Recruiting Station shootings because these incidents were clearly inspired or motivated by international terrorist organizations. The Oklahoma City bombing had nothing to do with combat on the battlefield or international terrorism.

The MOPH urges all Members of the US Senate and House of Representatives, especially those who serve on the Armed Services Committees, to reject this amendment that would cheapen the intent and importance of the Purple Heart medal and denigrate its meaning for those who have received it for their sacrifices to protect the freedoms that all Americans enjoy.

The organization now known as the “Military Order of the Purple Heart of the U.S.A. Inc.,” (MOPH) was formed in 1932 for the protection and mutual interest of all combat wounded veterans and active duty men and women who have received the decoration. Chartered by the Congress, The MOPH is unique among Veteran Service Organizations in that all its members were wounded in combat. For this sacrifice, they were awarded the Purple Heart Medal. With grants from the MOPH Service Foundation, the MOPH and its Ladies Auxiliary promote Patriotism, Fraternalism, and the Preservation of America’s military history. Most importantly, through veteran service, they provide comfort and assistance to all Veterans and their families, especially those requiring claims assistance with the VA, those who are homeless, and those requiring employment assistance. Programs of the MOPH include VA Volunteer Service, First Responder Recognition, JROTC Leadership Award, Scholarships, Americanism, Purple Heart Trail and Cities, Welfare, and numerous community service programs, all with the objective of service to Veterans and their families.

For information contact:
National Public Relations Director, John Bircher, (352) 753-5535
Or, National Adjutant, Ernesto Hernandez, (703) 354-2140
Email: PublicRelations@Purpleheart.org
MOPH on the Web
MOPH on Facebook

VA Expands Choice Program Eligibility

Background:
On August 7, 2014, President Obama signed into law the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-146) (Choice Act). Technical revisions to the Choice Act were made on September 26, 2014, when the President signed into law the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-175) and on December 16, 2014, when the President signed into law the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 (Public Law 113-235).

The Choice Act required VA to implement the Veterans Choice Program through an interim final rule, and on November 5, 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published an interim final rulemaking. In that rulemaking, VA adopted a straight-line method for determining eligibility for the Program based on the distance between a Veteran’s place of residence and the closest VA medical facility.

On April 24, 2015, VA published a second interim final rule that changed the way VA measures distance for purposes of determining eligibility. VA now considers the distance a Veteran must drive to the nearest VA medical facility, rather than the straight-line or geodesic distance to such a facility. This results in an expansion of eligibility for the Choice Program.

VA is pleased to announce this expansion effective today.

Effective immediately, VA is also changing the mileage calculation for beneficiary travel. The change will ensure consistency in VA’s mileage calculations. The beneficiary travel mileage calculation will now be made using the fastest route instead of the shortest route.

Summary:
A Veteran who meets threshold eligibility criteria may be eligible for the Choice Program based on the distance from his or her place of residence to the closest VA medical facility. VA previously determined eligibility based on place of residence using a straight-line measure of distance. VA is now using a driving distance measure.

For example: Under the new distance calculation, a Veteran who lives 40 miles or less, measured using a straight-line distance, from the nearest VA medical facility, but who needs to physically drive more than 40 miles to get there would be eligible for the Veterans Choice Program. Under the previous straight-line distance calculation, this Veteran would not have been eligible for the Program unless he or she was required to wait for an appointment longer than 30 days from his or her preferred date or the date determined to be medically necessary by his or her physician.

The expansion in eligibility increases Veterans’ access to high quality, timely healthcare. VA looks forward to continued collaboration with Veterans and our partners to ensure the success of the Veterans Choice Program.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: When is this rule change effective?
A: The interim final rule was published in the Federal Register on April 24, 2015, and is effective immediately upon publication.

Q: Why is VA changing this criterion now?
A: The change in criterion to the program will allow more Veterans to access care when and where they want it. VA believes a driving distance calculation is consistent with the law. The Choice Act does not state how distance should be calculated for purposes of determining eligibility based on place of residence. The straight-line measure adopted by the first interim final rule was consistent with language in the legislative history of the Choice Act. .

Q: What mapping tool is used to calculate the 40 miles?
A: VA will use the commercial product that is used by VA’s long-established beneficiary travel program. Because different mapping tools use different proprietary programming, the results may vary among products.

Q: Is the distance calculated the same way that is used to calculate mileage for beneficiary travel?
A: The mapping tool for beneficiary travel will now calculate the driving distance using the fastest route rather than the shortest route. This is a change to the beneficiary travel program that will make the distance determinations under the beneficiary travel program consistent with distance calculations under the Veterans Choice Program. The fastest route was chosen as the standard to ensure fairness to Veterans.

Q: Is it still 40 miles from any VA medical facility or is it 40 miles from a VA medical facility that actually provides the care needed?
A: This Choice Act requires VA to measure the distance from the Veteran’s residence to the closest VA medical facility, even if that facility does not provide the care that is needed. Absent a statutory change, VA does not have the flexibility to adopt an alternative approach. We are working with Congress to seek possible alternatives.

Q: How does VA plan to notify newly eligible Veterans?
A: All potentially eligible Veterans already received a Veterans Choice Card. VA will send follow-up letters notifying Veterans who are eligible under the revised mileage calculation.

Q: Who can a Veteran call if they have questions about the Veterans Choice Program or do not remember receiving their Veterans Choice Card?
A: If a Veteran does not remember receiving a Veterans Choice Card or has other questions about the Choice Program, they can call (866) 606-8198.

Q: Where can I get more information about the program?
A: Please review the VA Choice website at http://www.va.gov/opa/choiceact/

Univ. of Phoenix AMVETS Scholarship

2015 Recipients Announced!

AMVETS Scholarships

Scholarship program provides 20 full-tuition scholarships to active-duty service members, eligible family members and veterans

PHOENIX, Feb. 10, 2015 – University of Phoenix and AMVETS, an advocate for veterans’ education, awarded 20 full-tuition scholarships to active-duty service members, eligible family members and veterans to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree from University of Phoenix. AMVETS has teamed with University of Phoenix since 2007, offering 325 scholarships to demonstrate the appreciation of the sacrifice active-duty service members, their families and veterans make for the country and to help them transition from the military to the civilian sector.

University of Phoenix AMVETS Scholarship recipients are:

  • Ronald Camacho of Oceanside, Calif.
  • Marie Cooper of Tinley Park, Ill.
  • Brittany Diaz of Phoenix, Ariz.
  • Kathryn Jones of Port Saint Lucie, Fla.
  • Trent Maxwell of Kings Bay, Ga.
  • Sheila Morrow of E. Saint Louis, Ill.
  • Shelia Palmer of Felton, Del.
  • Rebecca Parks of Salem, Va.
  • Karen Ramirez of Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Ethan Ramsey of Yuma, Ariz.
  • Tiffany Rupp of Hope Mills, N.C.
  • Wanda Shires of Chesterfield, Va.
  • Jill Slate of Camarillo, Calif.
  • James Stephens of Middletown, Del.
  • Ashley Stimac of Stafford, Va.
  • Edward Stimac of Stafford, Va.
  • Kevin Thieme of Delia, Kan.
  • Jimmy Tidwell of Lawrence, Tenn.
  • Jamie Train of Derby, Kan.
  • Michael Wainwright of Brockport, N.Y.

“We are so very grateful for our long standing education partnership with University of Phoenix. This is truly a commitment that changes the lives of the recipients,” said AMVETS National Commander Larry E. Via. “These scholarships are an important part of our mission to help all veterans. In particular, our post-9/11 recipients can attain their educational goals as they strive to make a successful reintegration back into the civilian world.”

“We have a responsibility to help educate America’s transitioning service members, their families and veterans for career opportunities in both the military and civilian sectors,” said University of Phoenix Military Relations Vice President retired Army Col. Garland Williams. “The 2014 University of Phoenix AMVETS Scholarships provides the 20 recipients an access to education opportunities to help increase their professional skill sets to secure future career opportunities.”

Even though the post-9/11 veterans unemployment rate is improving compared to a year ago1, there is still an urgent need to provide education and career services for transitioning active-duty service members, their families and veterans. University of Phoenix and AMVETS understand the critical need for America’s military to educationally distinguish themselves among job seekers in today’s competitive employment landscape.

Applications for the 2015 University of Phoenix AMVETS Scholarships will be accepted May 5, 2015, through Sept. 8, 2015, and scholarship recipients will be announced on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2015.

For more information on how to apply for the 2015 University of Phoenix AMVETS Scholarships and for scholarship requirements, please visit www.phoenix.edu/amvetscholar when the scholarship application period opens on May 5, 2015.

About AMVETS
A leader since 1944 in preserving the freedoms secured by America’s armed forces, AMVETS provides support for veterans and the active military in procuring their earned entitlements, as well as community service and legislative reform that enhances the quality of life for this nation’s citizens and veterans alike. AMVETS is one of the largest congressionally-chartered veterans’ service organizations in the United States, and includes members from each branch of the military, including the National Guard and Reserve. To learn more, visit www.amvets.org.

About University of Phoenix
University of Phoenix is constantly innovating to help working adults move efficiently from education to careers in a rapidly changing world. Flexible schedules, relevant and engaging courses, and interactive learning can help students more effectively pursue career and personal aspirations while balancing their busy lives. As a subsidiary of Apollo Education Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: APOL), University of Phoenix serves a diverse student population, offering associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs from campuses and learning centers across the U.S. as well as online throughout the world. For more information, visit www.phoenix.edu.

AMVETS Renews Arizona Memorial as “Keepers of the Wall”

USS Arizona Memorial Wall

AMVETS are Keepers of the USS Arizona Memorial Wall. Rededicated Veterans Day 2014.
AMVETS photo by David Gai

Lanham, MD – Black tears of oil still seep up from the submerged tomb of the 1177 sailors and Marines that perished in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. These are constant reminders of this defining moment of WWII that propelled America into global conflict and forever changed the course of world history.

During the hour-and-fifty minute raid on Pearl Harbor, nearly 2,400 American service¬men died and approximately 1,170 were wounded. Eighteen ships lay sunken or badly damaged and close to 350 planes were put out of commission. The USS Arizona, one of seven battleships moored along Battleship Row was the most seriously devastated. Taking several hits from large, armor-piercing bombs, the great ship went down in less than nine minutes. As the President spoke to Congress, asking them to declare war on Japan, sailors were cutting through the still burning wreckage of the USS Arizona attempting to save others who were trapped inside the ship. The last survivor from the Arizona was pulled from the wreckage that afternoon.

The loss of life that day wasn’t restricted only to military personnel, or even to Pearl Harbor. Forty nine civilians of very different backgrounds, ages, and locations on the island of Oahu also took a heavy toll.

AMVETS is committed to ensuring that December 7, 1941, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared “A date which will live in infamy,” will always be remembered and preserved through the USS Arizona Memorial and the Wall of Remembrance. In the 1950’s, AMVETS helped secure the final required funding of $250,000 for the memorial. Unfortunately, the Wall of Remembrance, a permanent memorial with all the names inscribed in marble panels, began to deteriorate over many years, making them hard or impossible to read. In 1983, AMVETS replaced the Wall of Remembrance, which was rededicated in 1984.

Thirty years later the Wall of Remembrance once again faced the challenges of deterioration and needed replacement. As keepers of the Wall, AMVETS again honored our commitment and raised the funds to replace the 138 Olympian White marble panels adorned with the names of the fallen. Construction on the Memorial began in August 2014 and the wall was rededicated this past Veterans Day 2014.

For many Americans, the bombing of Pearl Harbor on that ordinary Sunday morning marked a change in the world as they knew it. The attack united us as people and strengthened our resolve to ultimately prevail over the forces of aggression. The vicious and unprovoked terrorist attacks of September 11 also served to remind us yet again that we still face challenges to our freedom, and we must be vigilant in defending liberty. Our country will not tolerate those who jeopardize our very way of life.

The upsurge in American patriotism in response to the terrorist attacks — much like the response to the attack on Pearl Harbor— gives us much reason for hope.

As our country fights to eliminate international terrorism and bring those responsible for the attacks to justice, America’s veterans know — perhaps better than most — the sacrifices that must be made until victory is achieved.

AMVETS, which had its beginnings in 1944, near the end of World War II, shoulders the responsibility to see to it that the United States never for¬gets those who served and died at Pearl Harbor. Realizing that freedom is best protected through strength, we will continue to stand firm on national defense issues.

President Lincoln said that speeches and statues are not an adequate repayment for service in defense of one’s country. One day of remembrance is simply not enough for what these veterans did 73 years ago. For we are able to choose freedom today because of the bravery of those men and women whose fate, on that day, had been chosen for them.

It is our duty and our solemn vow to never forget those who fought and died. Let us always honor the brave men of the USS Arizona with this memorial so they may rest in peace among the waves and know they will never be forgotten.

(Click to enlarge)



AMVETS Veteran Job Fair bringing more than 40 employers to Memphis

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 7, 2014

AMVETS hosted Veteran Job Fair Set for August 13 in Memphis
More than 40 Employers to Attend

Lanham, MD – Veterans service organization AMVETS (American Veterans) will host a Veteran Job Fair, a hiring event for veterans, military and spouses, at the Memphis Cook Convention Center on Wednesday, August 13, 2014. Call of Duty Endowment and the Greater Memphis Chamber will co-sponsor the event, which will run from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.

“We expect more than 40 employers looking to hire veterans not just for local positions but many with opportunities across the nation,” said AMVETS Career Specialist Gema Moreno. “We encourage career-seeking veterans and current military personnel who are transitioning from active duty to civilian life, members of the National Guard and reserves, military spouses, and other military family members.”

A free seminar will be offered prior to the event at 10:00 a.m., entitled “The Military to Civilian Transition: Leverage the Power of Your Personal Brand.” Internationally regarded branding expert Lida Citroen has worked with returning veterans across various channels, teaching them personal branding, marketing resources and social media skills to better aid their relevancy in a competitive job search. All veterans are welcome to attend this session that will provide information that can immediately be put to use with participating employers.

If you are a veteran looking to attend or a business that would like to participate in hiring veterans you can pre-register and sign up via AMVETS at: http://www.amvets.org/vetjobfair. AMVETS is being assisted by RecruitMilitary. By registering for the career fair, you will also be registered in the RecruitMilitary job board. With 600,000+ jobs available for veterans, our partner provides further access to jobs nationwide.

AMVETS, is one of the country’s premier veteran service organizations, with a proud history of assisting veterans and sponsoring numerous programs that serve our country and its citizens. http://www.amvets.org/

American Legion, AMVETS and CVA Joint Statement on VA Spending Request

Washington, DC – Today, the American Legion, AMVETS (American Veterans), and Concerned Veterans of America (CVA) released the following statement regarding congressional posturing resulting from a request made by acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson for an additional $17.6 billion in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs:

“Regardless of the merits, a last-minute VA request for $17.6 billion dollars in additional spending only hampers an already difficult VA conference committee negotiating process. Both the House and Senate VA reform bills that passed were centered on two things—accountability and access. It is disgraceful and utterly painful to see bipartisan efforts erode and lawmakers lose sight of what’s important. Negotiations, which should happen in public, not behind closed doors, must stay focused on ensuring VA leadership is held accountable and veterans have timely access to care. All other discussions only undermine a critically important process.

“We urge Congress to take immediate action to regain their focus on ensuring the VA Secretary exercises their authority to hold management and staff accountable for their inappropriate behavior, and immediately stop the corruption and mismanagement within the VA. Before asking for more money, the VA must start making good on the nation’s promise to its honored veterans.”

Dan Dellinger
National Commander
the American Legion

Stewart Hickey
Executive Director
AMVETS

Pete Hegseth
Chief Executive Officer
Concerned Veterans for America

FBI to Investigate Phoenix VA

June 12, 2014

Lanham, Md. – Officials announced today the Federal Bureau of Investigation is beginning to review records at the Phoenix VA for potential criminal wrongdoing.

Phoenix was the first location whistleblowers exposed manipulation of appointment schedules and claims veterans had died while waiting for care. The VA scandal includes more than 40 hospitals and at least 120,000 veterans experiencing improper delays. The VA Inspector General’s audit proceeds in 69 different medical facilities. In its preliminary report of its audit last week, the VA stated 13 percent of VA schedulers said they were told to falsify appointment-request dates to give the impression that wait times were shorter than they really were in order to receive performance bonuses.

“AMVETS fully supports the criminal prosecution of all who are found to have dishonored the Department of Veterans Affairs by believing they were not actually accountable to the veterans they were there to serve, and the American people,” said Stewart Hickey, AMVETS National Executive Director. “We are pleased the administration is moving in this direction and anticipate it will run its full course.”

“VA easily gets distracted by ‘shiny objects’ and is notoriously slow to act. It is imperative the administration is not diverted by this investigation and continues its focus to further adopt viable solutions that truly fix the VA’s deep-seated systemic problems. Keeping the quality care of veterans within the VA system is the top priority. AMVETS provided recommendations to the VA to bring much needed solutions to the table. Our nation’s veterans deserve access to a health-care system that puts their needs first,” added Hickey.

FBI Director James Comey would not say whether their investigation would be expanded beyond the initial allegations at the Phoenix medical facility, but said the FBI was “working with the VA IG and will follow this wherever the facts take us.”

AMVETS Statement on VA Secretary Shinseki’s Resignation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 30, 2014

Lanham, Maryland. – Following today’s announcement of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation, AMVETS and National Executive Director Stewart M. Hickey released the following statement.

“We are saddened but not surprised at Eric Shinseki’s resignation today. He is an honorable man whose dedication and service to our country and veterans is beyond reproach. Shinseki’s leadership and vision to deliver veterans with the highest quality care were bringing the Department of Veterans Affairs into the 21st century. His focus on veterans included directing the adoption of solutions that directly addressed the known problems including developing the capabilities to digitize claims and implement procedures and capabilities to better manage patient schedules and reduce wait times. Unfortunately, Shinseki’s legacy at the helm of the VA will forever be tainted by the shameful performance and failures of VA employees and managers. Shinseki, as the honorable man that he is, is accepting full responsibility and blame for the problems at VA but he is not the one within VA who should be gone. Shinseki’s trust in the VA was betrayed. The systemic problems are the result of the lack of integrity of nearly every member of VA’s career bureaucrats, especially the VISN and hospital management layers who failed him by withholding crucial facts, disregarding directives and policies, hiding bad news, falsifying documents and otherwise lying to convince him that the serious, systemic issues were merely isolated incidents to be ignored.”

“Shinseki’s removal further complicates, not solves the VA’s problems. With their staunchest champion gone, the trust of America’s veterans will come at a high price for the new VA Secretary. The VA bureaucracy needs a total overhaul; the type of reform that changes the very culture of the VA from complacency and mistrust to the full accountability for the care and well-being of our nation’s veterans. The VA’s new leader must take swift and decisive action to further adopt viable solutions that truly fix the systemic problems, and keep the quality care of veterans within the VA system. The new leader must also immediately discipline and remove the employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence and corruption.” – Stewart M. Hickey, AMVETS National Executive Director

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For more news from AMVETS and the solutions to fix VA healthcare, please visit: www.amvets.org.
Find us on Facebook at: Facebook.com/AMVETSHQ or follow us on Twitter at:
@AMVETSNational

AMVETS ANNOUNCES SUMMER SWEEPSTAKES WINNERS!

LANHAM, Md., May 23, 2014—AMVETS leaders this week congratulated AMVETS 2014 Memorial Day Weekend Sweepstakes grand prize winner Carolyn S. Holp. AMVETS National First Vice Commander Larry Via personally called Ms. Holp to congratulate her on winning the $10,000 sweepstakes’ top prize after the drawing was held at AMVETS National Headquarters today.

AMVETS selected the 10 lucky sweepstakes winners out of approximately 120,000 entries from around the country. The prizes ranged from $500, to the $10,000 grand prize.

Proceeds from the sweepstakes will help support AMVETS’ continuing mission to deliver quality of life programs for veterans and their families. Be sure to look for the next AMVETS Sweepstakes entry form in the mail in September 2014.

2014 Memorial Day Weekend Sweepstakes winners:

$10,000.00 – Carolyn S. Holp, Brookville, OH

$5,000.00 – Kathleen Dailey, Sheffield Lake, OH

$2,500.00 – William E. Steiger, Richfield, OH

$1,000.00 – Julie Whiting, Mesa, AZ

$500.00 – Robert Brittingham, Laurel, DE

$500.00 – Robert Kuzniar, Thayer, MO

$500.00 – Darlene Beck, Bismark, ND

$500.00 – Petronella Vogt, Marilla, NY

$500.00 – James L Warner, Trenton, MI

$500.00 – Donald R. Shaub, Pequea, PA

 

About AMVETS:

A leader since 1944 in preserving the freedoms secured by America’s armed forces, AMVETS provides support for veterans and the active military in procuring their earned entitlements, as well as community service and legislative reform that enhances the quality of life for this nation’s citizens and veterans alike. AMVETS is one of the largest congressionally-chartered veterans’ service organizations in the United States, and includes members from each branch of the military, including the National Guard and Reserves. To learn more visit www.amvets.org.

AMVETS Recommends Solutions to Help Fix VA Healthcare

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 23, 2014

Lanham, MD – Today, AMVETS, one of the preeminent Congressionally Chartered Veteran Service Organizations in the country, released the following observations and recommendations to address some of the current problems within the VA healthcare system:

Introduction & Background:

Now is the time and opportunity to reform the VA to make it effective and efficient to best serve the needs of all veterans. Without cool heads and creative thinkers we’ll never be able to move beyond the recent hysterics and put into effect viable workable solutions.

VA healthcare is the true cost of war. The cost of war has always been extremely high. The major burden of that cost has been borne by the men and women who have served their country in the military, especially during times of armed combat. Their healthcare needs differ from their civilian counterparts, a realization that originally led to the development of the VA healthcare system.

All American Veterans are keenly aware of the disconcerting allegations that numerous VA Medical Centers created ‘secret wait lists,’ falsified health records, and destroyed evidence to hide the fact they were not providing timely and appropriate health care to our nation’s veterans. The scores of stories are shocking and disappointing. The cold hard fact that Veterans wait months for treatment, suffer terrible ailments and chronic pain, even death, can only be deemed as purposeful neglect.

The VA compares to the mythical hydra – an isolated problem arises and we either throw money at it or chop it off. Before we know it more problems pop up to take its place. This insanity of doing the same things the same way and expecting a different outcome is historically how the VA has operated. Now is the time to slay the #VAHydra by effectively changing its culture.

The spate of current problems within the VA healthcare system are neither new nor unusual. Throughout its history, even back to the predecessor Bureau of Pensions, there have been difficulties within the VA, the very system created to minister to their unique healthcare needs. A series of Congressional hearings at the end of World War I identified a nightmare of red tape, inefficiency and neglect and determined VA hospitals couldn’t adequately meet the needs of our veterans. Various government officials have been aware of these problems for years, but failed to take action. There can be no doubt the VA suffers from deep seated, systemic problems and neither the department nor its employees believe that they are actually accountable to either the veterans they serve, or the American people who pay their generous salaries.

It’s also critical for the positives of the VA healthcare system to move into the limelight. Those positives outlined in the Independent Budget (IB) include that VA:

  • Is the largest direct provider of health-care services in the nation;
  • Provides the most extensive training environment for healthcare professionals;
  • Is the nation’s most clinically focused setting for specialized medical and prosthetics research;
  • Provides specialized health-care services in a number of areas that cannot be adequately duplicated in the private sector (e.g., spinal cord injury/dysfunction; blind rehabilitation; traumatic brain injury; prosthetic services; mental health; and war-related poly-traumatic injuries);
  • Is among the most efficient and cost-effective healthcare system in the nation;
  • Sets the standards for quality and efficiency at or below Medicare rates, while simultaneously serving a population that is older and has a higher percentage of individual health problems

We cannot overemphasize one crucial point, VA healthcare is the nation’s largest integrated health care network with millions of participants, countless medical centers and community based outpatient clinics worldwide. Like any large system, it will have problems. Not to say that problems shouldn’t be addressed, but they shouldn’t be unexpected either. Problems, up to and including preventable deaths, are not the exclusive domain of VA hospitals. The vast majority of our veterans receiving healthcare from the VA receive excellent, cutting-edge care and VA’s approval rating is well above that of most any civilian hospital.

A complete top-to-bottom culture change is needed to renew the nation’s commitment to our veterans, not a new system. The problems are not going to be fixed by merely appointing a new Secretary or other chiefs. With drastic changes needed at each and every level of the organization, no one should be excluded from this much overdue ‘spring cleaning,’ up to and including VA contractors.

It is our responsibility to vigorously defend a system that has set itself above all other major health-care systems in this country. In spite of all of the criticism that the VA health-care system receives, it continues to outperform every other health-care system in America, both in quality of care and patient satisfaction. The one main focus moving forward is the health and well-being of our veterans. AMVETS offers these recommendations to help save and improve our VA healthcare system, not eliminate it:

Specific Recommendations:

  1. Ensure both advanced appropriations and discretionary funding for VA, as recommended in the IB, keeps pace with medical care inflation and healthcare demand so that all veterans healthcare needs can be adequately met;
  2. Maximize the use of non-physician medical personnel to mitigate physician shortages and reduce patient wait times especially while utilization of the VA system continues to rise;
  3. Ensure VA makes more realistic third-party medical care collection estimates so that Congress doesn’t under-appropriate funds based on false expectations which in turn negatively impact veteran care
    1. VA needs to redouble its efforts to increase its medical care collections efforts (the cumulative effects of overestimating and under-collecting only degrade the care available to our veterans)
    2. Establish both first- and third-party copayment accuracy performance measures which would help minimize wasted collection efforts and veteran dissatisfaction;
  4. Incorporate civilian healthcare management best practices to attract the best and the brightest healthcare managers in the industry
    1. Include a pathway to VA hospital/clinic management for civilians as part of their succession plan requirements
    2. Adopt proven recruitment, hiring and retention policies to ensure the timely delivery of high quality healthcare to our veterans. (VA’s current cumbersome and overly-lengthy hiring process reduces its ability to deliver critical services. Adopting a more expedient hiring/approval process could include some form of provisional employment;
  5. Immediately increase doctor/patient (d/p) ratio to realistic and productive levels; this one change would drastically improve access to needed healthcare by cutting wait times for veterans needing treatment and/or referrals
    1. Current VA (d/p) ratio is only 1:1200, the (d/p) ratio for non-VA physicians is close to 1:4200;
  6. Improve the patient management system to provide veterans more appointment setting options and reduce staffing errors and requirements
    1. Utilize a private sector best practice hybrid system whereby a portion of the day consists of scheduled appointments and the other portion for walk in or same-day appointments
    2. Eliminate the need for non-specialty appointments to allow veterans quicker access to their primary care providers;
    3. Expand primary care appointment hours to include evening/after hours and Saturdays to help reduce wait times and improve access to needed healthcare
  7. Bring in outside advisory/consulting expertise to reassess VA’s organizational structure and improve its healthcare operations
    1. Adopt private sector best practices for system efficiencies, maximizing human and financial resources, and minimizing waste and redundancies;
    2. Incorporate private sector best practices to rebalance the administrative staff to patient-focused clinical staff ratios
    3. Reduce administrative staff by implementing monitoring and patient advocacy positions at VA Medical Centers to be resourced by trained volunteers from Veteran and Military Service Organizations
  8. Collaborate with HHS (Health & Human Services) to utilize/share the benefits of the Uniform Data System (UDS)
    1. The UDS is a core set of information appropriate for reviewing and evaluating the operation and performance of individual health centers. The ability to track, through the UDS system, a wide variety of information, including patient demographics, services provided, staffing, clinical indicators, utilization rates, costs, and revenues would be invaluable in improving the overall VA healthcare system;
  9. Collaborate with HHS (Health & Human Services) to allow veterans to utilize the existing system of Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC):
    1. FQHCs include all organizations receiving grants under section 330 of the Public Health Service Act, certain tribal organizations, and they qualify for enhanced reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, as well as other benefits.
    2. FQHCs are required to serve an underserved area or population; offer a sliding fee scale; provide comprehensive services; have an ongoing quality assurance program; and have a governing board of directors
    3. Rather than going unseen or untreated due to limited appointment or physician availability, veterans could seek immediate care on a temporary basis until the VA appointment backlog is eliminated;
  10. Exercise the option to terminate non-performing employees at all levels of the organization so that only dedicated, accurate, motivated employees will remain in service to our veterans; and
  11. Reform incentive programs so that only high-performing employees receive appropriate bonuses for their excellence in serving our veterans

Closing Remarks:

Recognition of any problems within the VA healthcare system should not be taken as a need or desire to completely dismantle or replace our existing veterans’ healthcare system, but only to improve it. The cultural and healthcare needs of our veterans are unique and the VA alone is uniquely qualified to meet those important needs. The basic framework for success is already in place and immediate results are achievable with prompt, effective and culture-changing best practices; let’s not throw out one of the premier healthcare systems in the world in our haste to fix these current problems or achieve political goals.

Every American Veteran who has worn the uniform of this country has had to fight to secure and retain this most important earned benefit. AMVETS’ recommendations are intended to serve and honor the men and women who are America’s Veterans by assisting VA in fulfilling its stated mission, ‘To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.