December 28, 2015

Timely Response Key To Improving Veterans Services

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

This is the second in a series of columns to discuss the specifics of the findings from my 2015 Veterans Survey.  In this column, I will discuss the findings regarding the Veterans Health Administration.

Knowing who to turn to at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is an important part of accessing needed services.  The VA is composed of three unique administrations-the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the National Cemetery Administration.  Often, it may be difficult to distinguish between the VBA and the VHA although they have shared, yet distinctly different missions.  The VBA administers a wide range of benefits, including compensation and vocational assistance, to veterans.  The VHA manages all aspects of providing health care, and VHA staff provide many veterans direct medical treatment.  

Sixty-six percent of survey participants characterized their experiences with the VHA as "satisfying" or better, while 19 percent characterized their experiences as "dissatisfying" or worse.  Generally, survey participants were more satisfied with the VHA than with the VBA.  Of the participants who had experience interacting with the VHA's medical staff, 76 percent found those interactions to be "satisfying" or better.  Seventy-three percent of applicable participants were satisfied or better with the quality of care they received.  The VHA should be very proud of these satisfaction numbers.  I am grateful that we have such good medical personnel serving our veterans in Idaho. 

Nonetheless, it is clear that improvements are needed at the VHA, especially in terms of its ability to provide timely and responsive service.  While 58 percent of survey respondents were "satisfied" or better with the timeliness and responsiveness of the VHA, 24 percent of participants were "dissatisfied" or worse.  My staff and I will work alongside those in the veterans community to identify ways to improve the VHA's ability to serve veterans in a timely and responsive manner and make needed improvements.  The insight from the veterans community on this issue is valuable, and I will continue to press ahead on this issue.      

Listed below are more VHA-related findings from the survey and areas where I continue to work with Idaho veterans and the VA for needed improvements:

  • Appointment notifications-Most participants were happy with their ability to communicate with the VHA over scheduling issues.  The remaining participants described frustrating situations in which appointments were made without notification and the veterans were penalized when he or she missed the appointment.  In other instances, appointments were cancelled without notification, frequently after veterans had travelled long distances.  Participants' frustrations were further exacerbated when they had to wait long periods of time to reschedule.
  • Lost paperwork-Several respondents shared specific instances of times when a VHA facility had lost the participant's medical documents or paperwork.
  • Mental health services-Several veterans expressed frustrations with the VA's mental health care system.
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Evaluation-Many veterans were frustrated with the evaluation process for PTSD. 

In the weeks ahead, I will be detailing some of the other critical issues that emerged from the survey results, including improving access to private care for veterans who are considerable distances from VA facilities.  Travel-related challenges and wait times for appointments are two critical issues affecting veterans' access to needed services.  The survey results, which I am sharing with the VA, are helping guide my efforts to improve veterans services and can be found on my official website at www.crapo.senate.gov

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