A New Direction: Addressing Problems with the VA Health System in 2018
Problems with the VA health system in 2018 persisted after years of scandals and stories of inefficiencies within the second largest agency in the federal government. Last year, VA Secretary David Shulkin was forced to resign amid allegations of inappropriate travel expenses on the VA’s dollar. In September, newly confirmed VA Secretary Robert Wilkie testified before Congress and laid out his vision for VA reform amid another tumultuous year of scandal within the department.
Improving Customer Service (CX)
Since 2014, Americans have read a seemingly endless stream of stories detailing long wait times and inefficiencies at VA health centers. In his testimony before Congress in September 2018, Secretary Wilkie expressed that his number one priority as head of the department would be to improve customer service. “Our goal is to make accessing VA services seamless, effective, efficient, and emotionally resonant,” said Wilkie. “The delivery of excellent CX is my responsibility and the responsibility of all VA employees.”
MISSION Act Implementation
In 2017, a landmark piece of legislation known as the MISSION Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Trump. The law seeks to improve healthcare access to veterans by expanding private sector partnerships in an effort to ensure that veterans have efficient access to healthcare anywhere in the country. Secretary Wilkie reiterated his support for the MISSION Act and laid out a detailed plan for the VA to continue implementing this historic and complex reform of VA healthcare. Time will tell how effective the law’s implementation will be.
In 2018, President Trump issued an executive order establishing the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. In his statement to Congress, Secretary Wilkie stated that since the OAWP was established, investigations of misconduct have been handled with more speed and efficiency. According to Wilkie, “the average investigation cycle time declined from 163 days to 100 days. From June 23, 2017, through June 1, 2018, OAWP completed 128 senior-leader investigations involving 236 persons; discipline was recommended in 54 cases involving 58 persons.”
The OAWP was a step in the right direction for improving transparency at the VA. As the Secretary puts it, “Everyone recognizes that the VA has struggled in the past to hold employees accountable when they violated the public trust and to protect whistleblowers from retaliation… OAWP is dedicated and empowered to provide transparency and build public trust and confidence in VA.”
Although there have been steps in the right direction over the past few years to improve quality and accountability at the VA, there were still problems with the VA health system 2018. Secretary Wilkie laid out a bold and comprehensive plan to Congress in 2018 and we are hopeful that under his leadership, the VA will move more quickly toward reform. If there is one agency in the federal government that should be transparent, honest and effective, it is the Department of Veterans Affairs. We hope to see more bold reform from the VA as we head into 2019.