In Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David J. Shulkin’s first “State of the VA” address, he stated his goal is to “turn the VA into the organization veterans and their families deserve and one that America can take pride in.”

Prior to his appointment to secretary in February 2017,  Shulkin served as VA’s Under Secretary for Health for 18 months, leading the nation’s largest integrated health care system.

“As a physician, I tend to look at things in terms of the way I was trained: Assess, diagnose and then aggressively treat the patient,” said Shulkin, a board-certified internist. “Though we are taking immediate and decisive steps, we are still in critical condition and require intensive care.”

Speaking to the press corps in the White House briefing room, identified key areas that require attention.

Access to Care

Same-day services for primary care and mental health have been initiated in the VA’s 168 medical centers, but only 22 percent of patients receive same-day care. Additionally, 16 percent of primary care clinics are over 100 percent capacity.

“We need more clinical and support staff as well as more space in order to solve this problem,” Shulkin said.

Paying Providers

In August 2014, President Barack Obama signed into law the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, which included the Veterans Choice Program. The Veterans Choice Program is a benefit that allows eligible veterans to receive health care from a community provider rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a VA facility. There are 500,000 community providers in the network.

In the fiscal year 2016, the VA processed nearly 19 million claims for all community care programs; however, as of April 2017, only 65 percent of the claims are submitted electronically. It takes the VA more than 30 days to process 20 percent of payments for clean claims, affecting more 25,000 providers across the country and causing some to leave the network. Shulkin encouraged the private sector to use electronic submissions to allow faster payments.

Community Care

Shulkin addressed how the Veterans Choice Program is accessed and is committed to streamlining and improving how veterans use it by increasing the number of available facilities.

“We continue to work with our partners — including the White House, Congress, VSOs and community providers — to develop and pass legislation that will ensure VA community care is easy to understand, simple to administer, and meets the needs of veterans and their families,” Shulkin said.

Quality of Care

Shulkin identified 14 medical centers with 1-star ratings, which means they are below the community standard of care.

“Veterans shouldn’t have to accept low-quality care,” Shulkin said. “They deserve our very best. When they aren’t getting our best, they should be able to access the best their community has to offer. That is exactly what we are working to achieve with our new Choice plan”

Shulkin also addressed disability claims and appeals backlog; improving IT infrastructure; capital assets; construction; accountability; administration and bureaucracy at the VA; waste, fraud and abuse; and veteran suicide.

Watch the briefing online, courtesy of PBS Newshour.

 

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