Vets take wait-and-see attitude toward proposed VA changes
Posted November 11, 2014
Durham, N.C. — One day after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs unveiled a reorganization designed to make it easier for veterans to gain access to the sprawling department and its maze-like websites, area veterans said they are anxious about how the effort will play out in the coming months.
The plan, dubbed "MyVA," involves simplifying the way the agency is organized to deliver health care and other services. A single customer service structure with a limited number of regional divisions would handle everything from health care to benefits, loan centers and even cemetery plots, and VA Secretary Robert McDonald said he would like veterans to be able to access any VA website with a single user name and password.
"As VA moves forward, we will judge the success of all our efforts against a single metric: the outcomes we provide for veterans," McDonald said Monday. "We must become more focused on veterans' needs."
After fighting on the battlefield – and for years for benefits on the home front – veterans said Tuesday they won't go easy on promises of change.
"Getting into that system is a nightmare to me," said Harry Bays, a 20-year Air Force veteran. "If they're going to do that, its really going to have to be a whole lot easier than it is now."
DeAnne Seekins, director of the Durham VA Medical Center, said she hasn't yet received details about the reorganization and how it might affect her facility, which serves about 64,000 veterans each year.
"From what I know, it's all about the veteran," Seekins said. "It's all about the experience, about how they perceive the treatment that they're receiving."
McDonald, a former chief executive of consumer-goods giant Procter & Gamble, has been pushing to refocus the VA on customer service since taking over the troubled agency in July, following a nationwide scandal over long patient wait times for veterans seeking health care.
The scandal led to the ouster of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and to a new law making it easier for veterans to get VA-paid care from local doctors.
McDonald told the CBS News program "60 Minutes" on Sunday that the VA is considering disciplinary action against more than 1,000 employees. To help lessen wait times, he also wants the VA to hire about 28,000 physicians and health care workers, including 2,500 mental health professionals.
"I know everything's not OK (and) could be better," veteran Marvin Washington said. "That's what I'm hoping for ... Mr. McDonald to improve."
The worst outcome, veterans said, would be adding any more confusion to the VA system.
"We're not asking for special treatment. We'd just like to have things where you can understand them," Bays said.