December 14, 2015

Persistence Required On Veterans Services

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

I recently wrote about the release of the results of my 2015 Veterans Survey.  This column is the first in a series of columns in which I willdiscuss the details of the survey results.  The survey showed that veterans' satisfaction with the services they receive remains relatively stable in comparison to last year's survey, and improvements are needed, especially in responsiveness and timeliness.

Travel-related challenges and wait times for appointments are two critical issues affecting veterans' access to needed services.  Veterans have shared their concerns with severely delayed travel benefit reimbursements,and most veterans continue to be forced to travel long distances for services.  Many of these issues appear to be bureaucratic.  Although Congress made changes in law to better enable veterans to get local, non-U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) care when they live distances from VA facilities, the changes have not been implemented as intended.  I continue to work to improve local access, eliminate wait times and ensure that veterans needing travel reimbursement receive benefits in a timely fashion. 

A total of 924 survey responses were analyzed.  All comments from Idahoans were analyzed, even comments from those who took the survey more than once.  Ninety-six percent of survey participants served in the U.S. military.  The remaining four percent of participants include family members, friends and those who have relationships with veterans.  This significant response by veterans is extremely valuable, as veterans and their families know best the inner workings of the VA. 

Timely and responsive service is an important component of customer service that directly impacts veterans' satisfaction with the VA.  The VA must be prompt and complete in its responses to veterans' needs.  Responsive service means that staff acknowledges and responds to the veterans needs and concerns; it means VA staff explain what the VA is doing in a particular circumstance and why the VA is pursuing that course of action.  Far too often, survey participants expressed concern that the specifics of their situation were not considered. 

Continued improvement in satisfaction with the VA requires diligence.  Overall, the majority of participants (52 percent) characterized their experiences with the VA as "satisfying" or better.  Fifty-one percent of participants in the 2014 Veterans Survey indicated they were satisfied or better with their VA experiences.  Twenty-four percent of this year's survey participants responded that their experiences with the VA have improved "somewhat" or better.  However, the survey also showed that more work is needed to lower the proportion of those in the veterans community who report dissatisfying and very dissatisfying experiences.   

Effective, clear and courteous communications between VA representatives and veterans remain crucial.  Examples of positive and negative communication were evident.  Within the Veterans Health Administration, good communication examples included the doctor making the patient feel heard and respected or the staff being accessible, helpful and providing information and feedback, even in circumstances with little or no progress.  The veterans felt involved in their treatment and aware of the ongoing process.  Examples of bad communication include staff or doctors being rude or unresponsive, with veterans feeling as though the doctor is not listening or unaware of the patient's situation, feeling as though they cannot reach VA staff to ask questions, receiving no response about status of claims or feeling "left in limbo." 

Although many veterans described themselves as reasonably satisfied with veterans services, veterans indicate they want improvements in responsiveness and timeliness.  All are encouraged to read the survey results that can be found on my official website at www.crapo.senate.gov.  I am sharing the survey results with the Veterans Administration and continuing to work to make improvements for veterans. 

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