VA ADVISORY GROUP: CRITICS WRONG TO IGNORE ‘MyVA’ REFORMS
Before Donald Trump or House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) or a panel of health industry executives called this month for a leadership makeover to save VA healthcare, a separate committee of VA advisors asked critics this election year to stop ignoring an unprecedented transformation occurring across the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Veteran service organizations echo a similar message, noting, for example, that key parts of Trump’s 10-point plan to improve VA healthcare, unveiled Monday in Virginia Beach, were embraced months ago by VA and are being implemented or awaiting new authorities or funding from Congress.
Amid today’s bitter partisanship, it seems, no light can shine on achievements by the opposition party, even on issues critical to veterans. The risk of such a strategy, suggest the MyVA Advisory Committee, is that politics will steal momentum from real reforms and return VA to crisis mode, even as candidates vow their highest priority is to help veterans.
MyVA Advisory Committee, or MVAC, is a dozen leaders and subject matter experts on veteran issues or business or higher education. The twelve were appointed in March 2015 to advise VA on implementing Secretary Bob McDonald’s “MyVA initiatives” with its goal to create “a high-performing and customer-focused culture” across VA. Though McDonald appointed them, committee members operate independent of VA, tracking and evaluating progress for improving access to benefits and quality care.
Given the criticism still being leveled at VA, and the feint by the congressionally chartered Commission on Care to propose dismantling VA healthcare to have veterans rely solely on private sector care, the MVAC decided to release a preliminary report card on MyVA three months early.
The committee unanimously agreed “the change we have witnessed over the past 15-months – at all levels of the Department – is unprecedented.” Though significant challenges remain to modernize such a large and complex organization, the committee said, the VA transformation underway “is right, appropriate and does set a course for long-term reform and excellence across the department.”
The committee “strongly urges those who would…politicize the ongoing reform at VA to consider first…the debt of honor that’s been earned” by veterans and “how a grateful nation best pays on that debt.”
The committee chair is retired Army Major Gen. Josue (Joe) Robles, Jr., former president and chief executive officer of USAA, an insurance and investment association for military and veterans. Its vice chair is Air Force veteran Michael Haynie, vice chancellor at Syracuse University and executive director of its Institute for Veterans and Military Families.
In a phone interview, Robles and Haynie confirmed that worry over how election-year politics and the Commission on Care report might derail MyVA reforms sparked their progress report months ahead of deadline.
“This is the political season and I know there’s a lot of pressure on a lot of people to make statements or take positions,” said Robles. “And we wanted to make sure it’s clear the direction we’re heading.”
Haynie said he wouldn’t have backed issuing the statement last week if he had seen only marginal changes to VA programs and performance.
“Instead, what we have seen has truly been discontinuous change, fundamental change, in accountability, in transparency and in culture. It’s the kind of change that really does set a long-term direction for VA drastically different from the course VA was on two years ago.”
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