Message from the Director
Dear Veterans and Friends of VISN 4:
As we near the one-year anniversary of my appointment as network director, I wanted to share some thoughts with you about our work over the past year.
Since the confirmation of Robert A. McDonald as the eighth Secretary of Veterans Affairs in July 2014, VA has undergone an unprecedented transformation. Though we've made irreversible progress guided by Veterans' needs, we still have much more work to do. It takes time to transform any large organization, and we must maintain our momentum of change moving forward. Our continued transformation will require the unwavering devotion of our President-elect. It will require the continued strong support of Veterans Service Organizations, stakeholders, and local communities. It will require honest feedback from both our Veterans and our employees. And it will require the cooperation and support of Congress.
A period of transition is upon us. As I write this, we have not yet learned who our Secretary of Veterans Affairs may be in the coming weeks. Despite that fact, the transition process is already well underway at VA. Administrations do change. But our Nation's collective commitment to Veterans should not.
We, your VISN 4 staff, will address any and all upcoming transitions collectively, led by our core values:
Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, Excellence
We will continue to improve the quality of our services, access to those services, the Veteran satisfaction and trust in VA as we provide the care and services to our Nation's heroes that they have earned and deserve.
As we look ahead to what the new year may bring us, let's first take a quick look back at 2016:
- The MyVA transformation process has substantially contributed to VA's progress, including increasing trust of VA among Veterans nationally from 47% in December 2015 to 60% currently. We are all committed to ensuring that these transformations continue and we make progress into the future. You can read an in-depth update of the MyVA transformation or quickly view the highlights.
- In an ongoing effort to provide the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) that our Veterans need, VA has made process and technology improvements, increased staffing, and opened a second site in Atlanta to receive calls. Comparing March 2016 data with that from the first week of December, the VCL is answering 44% more calls, referring 20% more Veterans to local suicide prevention coordinators, and decreased our rollover rate to our backup call centers from 30% to 16%. (Earlier this week we experienced the first days in single digit rollover rates). As our processes and services have improved, our demand has risen and we are helping more Veterans than ever before.
- Unfortunately, at this time of year, the VCL may be needed more than ever. So, please share the following information with anyone you feel may need it: Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net, or send a text message to 838255 to receive free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, even if you are not registered for or enrolled in VA health care. (You can also call to request help for a Veteran you know.)
- VA's new, consolidated website, vets.gov, is one of the few government — and private sector! — logon accounts that meets the new and highest levels of security guidance and requirements for identity proofing that has been mandated for government agencies. Veterans can begin the two-step registration process for a Vets.gov account by using their DS Logon Premium credential or registering for an ID.me credential through the vets.gov homepage.
- VA is a critical part of President Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative. Staff at both our Philadelphia and Pittsburgh VA facilities are recruiting Veterans to join the VA-funded Million Veteran Program, a research program aimed at improving health care for future Veterans by studying how genes affect health. To participate, enrolled Veterans have a blood sample drawn and are asked a series of lifestyle questions. The program is completely voluntary and the data collected is stored anonymously. It will be used for research on diseases like diabetes and cancer, and military-related illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. More than half a million Veterans have already participated.
- In fiscal year 2016, VISN 4 facilities completed more than 3.7 million outpatient appointments. We also coordinated nearly 37,000 appointments outside of VA. Nearly 98% of these appointments were completed within 30 days of the Veteran's preferred date or the clinically indicated date. Additionally, our number of active provider agreements continues to grow (currently at more than 900), which will help us to continue to improve timely access to care for our Veterans.
- All VISN 4 facilities have now implemented Same-Day Services. This means that a Veteran with a need for care right away will have it addressed the same day. If the need arises after hours, it will be addressed the very next day. The need may be addressed by providing a face-to-face visit, returning a phone call, arranging a telehealth or video care visit, or scheduling a future appointment. The care will be provided by an appropriate clinical staff member. Additionally, if a Veteran is in crisis or has an urgent need for mental health care, he or she will receive immediate attention from a health care professional. Any Veteran new to mental health with a non-urgent need will receive an initial screening evaluation by the next calendar day.
- Since October 12, all facilities in VISN 4 have been utilizing a new, centralized nurse triage call center based at VA Butler Healthcare. Veterans can speak to a registered nurse regarding health care concerns anytime by calling their local VA medical center and pressing "3". During weekday administrative hours, they are connected to this new call center. After hours, on weekends, and on holidays, they are connected to a call center in New York. This is a great resource for Veterans to receive symptom management and medical advice anytime.
I would be remiss in not taking advantage of this opportunity to remind you that it's not too late to get a flu shot (if you haven't already). Getting a flu shot is the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your fellow Veterans.
As we reach the end of a very eventful year, we would like to thank all of you for your friendship and support. May the coming year bring each of us the health, optimism, and renewed spirit of unity and community we need to continue on this improvement journey.
Michael D. Adelman, M.D.
Network Director, VISN 4