Think of the Veterans Affairs. Now think of a veteran.
Close your eyes and try to visualize the VA and an actual veteran.
We will come back to this.
Perhaps one of the most contentious political fights of the past decade has centered on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was an effort to expand access to health care. It is somewhat ironic, that legislation to expand access to health care in the nation’s largest health system recently passed Congress with broad bipartisan support. I am referring to the Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks MISSION Act, which was signed into law last June.
Not only does this legislation have the potential to make it easier for veterans to get the care they deserve, it is likely to have far broader implications across the entire health care marketplace.
New law addresses some underlying issues
At its core, the MISSION Act is about the veterans’ experience, most notably by doubling down on the previously enacted Choice Act to make it easier for veterans to access care in their communities with non-VA providers.
The law has the potential to harness the power of rapidly evolving health technology and data science to help improve the patient experience of veterans. It may also address changing needs, changing demographics, and increasingly complex health challenges.
Mapping out the veteran experience
Most important, the MISSION Act sets out to put patient choice at the core of the VA. To support those choices, and to help patients make choices about their care, it’s essential to understand their journey and their actual experience. The Veteran Experience Journey Map illustrates the life experience of veterans and focuses on key moments that can help to empower them. Understanding how veterans interact (and how they want to interact) with the agency, can reveal opportunities to empower them and help make improvements to the system.
There are five important objectives of the VA MISSION Act:
- Consolidate and strengthen the VA’s community care programs: Reintegration into communities is a key moment that matters for veterans. Veterans are two times more at risk for suicide two-to-three months after returning from active duty when compared to their comrades who are still deployed. Community care programs can increase walk-in care options, which might be limited in rural parts of the country.
- Fund the existing Veterans Choice program: This funding will ensure that veterans continue to receive care through the Choice program until the new, consolidated Veterans Community Care Program takes effect. This provision of the law illustrates separating funding from the budget process has helped avoid political pitfalls.
- Create new flexibilities to help the VA manage its infrastructure portfolio through an asset and infrastructure review process: The VA is seeking ways improve efficiencies and waste through improvements underutilized facilities and delays in big construction processes.
- Expand the caregivers program to include eligible veterans from all eras of service, expanding the benefit beyond the post 9/11 demographic.
- Strengthen the VA’s workforce: There are more than 40,000 open positions throughout the VA. The VA is the nation’s second largest federal agency creating a significant opening to shape the workforce of the future. By attracting, retaining, and developing top health care professionals and talent the agency can improve experience of patients and brand.
In a new MISSION Act era, the VA has an opportunity to influence if not design the future of modern American health care. The closer we can track and map the veteran experience, the more likely we will let go of unconscious bias and conventional ways of doing things that can tangle systems.
Remember the image of the VA you had in your head?
Did you know that over 60 percent of physicians who work in the private sector did their residency rotation at the VA?
Remember the image of the veteran?
Did you know the fastest growing demographic of veterans is women?
That is not the VA people have become accustomed to imagining. The MISSION Act can help us see things as they now really are and serve the actual needs of veterans. We can harness community care and telehealth to improve access to specialists. We can exceed expectations. The MISSION Act will help veterans live longer, and live better. They have earned it.