The Department of Veterans Affairs: One Combat Veteran’s Perspective.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has different meanings to different people and can stir a wide array of emotions. For Veterans like myself, personal experience in accessing benefits is an important determinant of how the VA is viewed.

The VA has a wide range of benefits including VA Home Loans, GI Bill tuition benefits, VA healthcare and more. Which benefits you access, where you access them, and, frankly a fair amount of regional variance, can result in different perspectives on the VA. Today, I’d like to focus on the Veteran Health Administration (VHA).

As seen in the picture above, the VA has affixed a quote from our sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln to their facilities. The quote reads: “To Care for Him Who Shall Borne the Battle and For His Widow, and His Orphan” This is, of course, a very powerful commitment to lead by. However, not everyone believes the VA lives up to this commitment when caring for veterans. Recently, there were reports of three veterans committing suicide within five days of each other at different VA Medical Centers while waiting for their care. This is recognizably a national crisis. We, as a nation, must come together to find a solution. Too many veterans remain vulnerable to key health & wellness barriers – financial, employment, relationship, legal-related issues, homelessness and substance abuse.

Among the research for answers to issues plaguing veterans, the Institute for Veterans & Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University recognizes there are many opportunities for improved continuity of care between both governmental & civilian entities — that we must meet in the middle to care for our veterans. The praiseworthy #IVMF white paper entitled “Driving Community Impact” identifies the clear gap in services and goes further to build the business case for local, evidence-based coordination in veteran and military family services based on their ongoing collective impact initiative: AmericaServes. This approach demonstrates how a collective impact model and its organizing principles may further inform and encourage best practice and enhance the outcomes of these and future community-based collaborative initiatives.

As noted in IVMF’s white paper, Congress originally intended the VA system to serve as a safety net specifically for honorably discharged veterans with service-related injuries and those with limited means. But today’s VA serves many more veterans, not just these two populations. Today, the VA is undergoing major department-wide reforms to address its recent struggles related to waiting times and access to specialty care. However, it is important to remember that in terms of health care quality and effectiveness, studies still show that, since its reforms in the mid-1990s, #VHA has performed comparably to, if not better than, the broader national healthcare system.

At BeneLynk, our integrated approach dovetails with the efforts to bring together VA and community care. Our goal is to produce better health outcomes with our Veteran Lynk services, we advocate on behalf of each veteran member and secure documentation on the care they receive at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Our Medicare Advantage clients serve as a medical home for many veterans. Empowering veterans to share the care they receive at the VA with their Medicare Advantage plans produces the coordinated care that is at the center of so many of these efforts.

My duties at BeneLynk allow me to visit many VA facilities. I’m able to connect with VA staff members / leaders – most of whom are veterans themselves and genuinely have a passion to #serve by helping their fellow brothers & sisters-in-arms. I’m privileged to witness it firsthand; I listen to the many stories of my fellow veterans. Too often, we are falling short of the promise made to veterans. Together we must find a way, bringing together veterans, civilian & government institutions. The great people at the VA serving our veterans is not enough. New approaches must be found. New solutions must be implemented. And a relentless commitment must be made to improving the care we give to those who have “borne the battle.”

James Tongate

BeneLynk | Vice President, Government Relations