Another Change of Leadership

With the replacement of David Shulkin as VA Secretary, the second largest department of our federal government (after the Department of Defense) is once again looking for new leadership. Frankly, that’s more than a little disheartening.  I can’t help thinking how damaging that must be to staff morale, and how that might impact the veterans they’re sworn to serve.

Fortune magazine’s data on CEOs indicates that the median CEO tenure is just under five years for the 500 largest companies.  The two most recent Secretaries of the Veterans Administration didn’t have that length of time combined; and this at a time of crisis in the VA.

As the top keeps changing, priorities change with them. Employees must feel like they’re in a perpetual state of limbo. Incoming leadership must hit the ground running, without the benefit of determining whether the current VA is founded on the best model to deliver healthcare to veterans.

Here at the NVF, our concern is always for our veterans, men and women. Instability at the VA manifests as a lack of consistency and focus which can land on veterans who depend on the VA for their healthcare.

There are still long wait times for claims to be evaluated and processed. To their credit, VA Secretaries Eric Shinseki and Bob McDonald reduced the claim backlog from over 700,000 to 77,00 in just under 2.5 years (March 2013 – August 2015).   But the backlog has stayed fairly constant at that level. But VA rating decisions aren’t the only backlog. What we’re hearing about now on our Lifeline for Vets hotline is that it can take up to four months to get an appointment for other kinds of VA services. We handled two recent cases like this. One was a veteran couple living in their car, who had to wait months for an appointment with the VA’s homeless program just to see if they were eligible for a VASH housing voucher.  The other was a vet with combat service-related back injuries, PTSD and TBI, who waited for a pain clinic appointment to adjust his pain meds. He could barely walk.

We all know the size of the VA is part of the problem.  You’ve heard the saying about how long it takes to turn a battleship around.  I wonder if the head of the VA being a politically-appointed position is the best model, especially in our current divisive political climate.

One of the central items of discussion in this recent change of leadership will be the privatization of the VA with its $250-billion budget. Most veterans organizations are not in favor of privatization. It remains to be seen whether pressure from the White House will change the whole nature of the VA. By the way, the NVF’s stance is simply pro-vet, first and foremost.  Always has been.

That’s what makes this disheartening.  Somehow in all of this, the guy waiting for his check to pay college tuition, the single woman vet who needs housing for herself and her children, the vet who waits for the evaluation for disability payments …and many others, get lost.

I thought the whole point of the VA was to care for vets and their families.

If you know a vet who needs help, send them to us. We’ve been a constant in times of change. We’ve been here for vets for over thirty years, and we’re planning on staying.  Here’s our number: 888.777.4443

Shad Meshad

As a U.S. Army Medical Service Officer in Vietnam in 1970, Shad Meshad began pioneering treatment techniques for what would later become known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He is the founder of the National Veterans Foundation and founder and co-author of the VA’s Vet Center Program.

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