November 22, 2106

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt. Shaft
What’s the latest on the VA Transformation Initiative ?

Carl O
Via the internet

Dear Carl
The  U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently released a major update on the MyVA transformation, Secretary McDonald’s effort to transform VA into the top customer service agency in the federal government. This third edition of the program’s semi-annual report shows progress serving veterans with more services, in better time.

“Guided by Veterans’ needs, we’ve left old, unresponsive ways of doing business behind,” writes Secretary Robert McDonald. “We’ve changed leadership. We’ve added staff. We’ve adjusted policies. We’re eliminating bureaucracy and unproductive work. We’re encouraging inno­vative approaches to serving Veterans, and we’re sharing best practices across the Department. In short, we’re making VA the high-performing organization that it can be, and that my fellow Veterans, expect and deserve.”

Key results in the report include:

  • Veteran trust of VA is on the rise. In June 2016, nearly 60% of veterans said they trust VA to fulfill our country’s commitment to Veterans – a 47% improvement from six months before.
  • We are completing more appointments, faster. In FY 2016, VA completed nearly 58 million appointments – 1.2 million more than in FY 2015 and 3.2 million more than FY 2014. More of them are provided by a network of more than 350,000 community providers – a 45% increase in the number of providers since last year.
  • Processing of disability claims is faster and more accurate, too. The average wait time to complete a claim has dropped by 65%, to 123 days. We completed nearly 1.3 million claims in FY 2016, and reduced pending claims by almost 90%.
  • Urgent care is available when a Veteran needs it, and for non-urgent appointments, wait times are down. By September 2016, the average wait time for a completed appointment was down to less than 5 days for primary care, less than 7 days for specialty care, and less than 3 days for mental health care.
  • Veteran homelessness has been cut in half; it’s down 47% since 2010 nationwide, thanks in part to VA’s work with nearly 4,000 public and private agencies.
  • In the last 18 months, VA has facilitated dozens more collaborations, bringing in more than $300 million in investments and in-kind services to support America’s veterans.
  • Quality is improving. 82% of VA facilities improved quality overall since the fourth quarter of FY 2015.

The report details the changes and innovations, large and small, which produced these results. It also lays out a path forward for the agency – including an important role for Congress before the end of 2016.


Blue military style mailbag with BAVF red letters stenciled on it. Below the BAVF is a tag that says SGT. SHAFTShaft Notes
After recent unanimous House passage this month, the Senate voted today to send the Gold Star Families Voices Act (HR 4511) to the President for his signature. The legislation, authored by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), will allow immediate family members of servicemembers who are killed or missing in action or have died as a result of their service to participate in the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.

Today’s vote honors the men and women who gave ‘the last full measure of devotion’ in the service of our Nation by allowing their family members to tell their stories, so that all Americans can hear, appreciate, remember, and honor these patriots,” said Smith, former chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Preserving their memories will allow current and future generations of Americans to better understand and appreciate the sacrifices borne by those who served in uniform, the realities of war, and the narrative that helps define who we are as a nation.”

Senate passage today—which was secured by the hard work of my good friend and colleague Chairman Roy Blunt—will build on this collection and ensure we record and remember the lives and sacrifices of all who have served and provide the very deserving family members with the opportunity to create a lasting record of their fallen loved ones,” Smith continued.

Congress created the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress in 2000 to collect and catalog the stories of American war veterans. The project has been a great success. Earlier this year, the Library announced that it reached a milestone: it has collected more than 100,000 testimonies of veterans who have served in military engagements since World War I in our permanent record.

Currently the project accepts only first-hand accounts of living veterans, unintentionally leaving out the men and women who did not return from the battlefield. Under Smith’s bill, immediate family members can participate on a veteran’s behalf including parents, spouses, siblings and/or children.

     After passage in the Senate, Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) added: “We would not be the nation we are today if not for the profound acts of courage and selflessness of our fallen heroes. We, as Americans, owe it to these men and women to know their names, to honor their deeds, and to preserve their memories. The Gold Star Families Voices Act makes an invaluable project even better by giving the family members of our missing and fallen service members the opportunity to share their stories and ensure they become a part of our nation’s historical record. I thank American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. and Representative Chris Smith for championing this bill, and my Senate colleagues for getting it to the President’s desk.”

Congress created the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project to turn the memories of our warfighters into our history and memorialize the lives of heroes. Yet, conspicuously missing from the rich project’s history are the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Smith.

Smith praised the Gold Star Mothers and highlighted their continued advocacy: “The Gold Star Mothers are an incredibly inspiring, committed and dedicated group of women who have worked tirelessly and successfully to bring about meaningful change to better the lives of servicemembers, veterans and their families.”

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