Bringing Veterans Care Into 21st Century

Bringing Veterans Care Into 21st Century: Recalling the heroes of Wheeler Field, Hawaii — who responded to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor— and Medal of Honor recipient Col. Leo Thorsness and his valor over Vietnam and time as a prisoner of war, Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told the audience at AFA’s Air & Space Conference Monday it is his organization’s duty to “keep the faith” for men and women such as these. While most think of VA as a health care system, Shinseki said since he came into his office in 2009 he has been hard at work battling some very steep problems—from the veterans’ claims backlog to modernizing health records, expanding crisis hotlines and combating homelessness— and “transforming the VA into a 21st century organization.” Very little of the organization’s work originates at VA, Shinseki (a retired Chief of Staff of the US Army) said, and as such he and the Secretary of Defense have pushed for greater transparency and cooperation between their two departments in the past few years. Shinseki noted he has met with then SECDEF Robert Gates and current SECDEF Leon Panetta an unprecedented 10 times in 19 months— on subjects ranging from joint organizations to establishing a “seamless” joint electronic health care record between the two organizations. Eliminating the paper trail will be a key target for undoing the backlog of claims at his organization, he noted, and he hopes by next September he can report fewer than 40 percent of claims will be in the system for more than 125 days— but he says much work needs to be completed still.