Coming Together: The Future of Veterans' Health Care
June 11 -12, 2014
National Press Club
On June 11, NAVAPD and the Foundation for Veterans' Healthcare hosted the Summit, "Coming Together: The Future of Veterans Health Care" at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Almost 200 VA clinicians, representatives from veterans service organizations, congressional staff, and other VA stakeholders came together to discuss healthcare issues facing Veterans.
Four panels covered PTSD/TBI; Continuity of Care: Transitioning from DOD to VA; Incidentalomas: A Blessing or a Curse?; and VHA's Role in the 21st Century featuring congressional experts. While planning began in February for the Summit the event grew in significance because of the crisis unfolding at the Veterans Administration.
NAVAPD reached out to both sides of the political aisle for speakers to address Summit attendees and were pleased that Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and Rep Dan Benishek, MD, Chairman of the House VA Subcommittee on Health agreed to speak at the Summit. Congressman Benishek was our kick-off speaker and Congressman Miller delivered the keynote address at lunch.
Both Congressmen spoke about the issues of delayed care for Veterans, efforts to find those responsible and hold them accountable, and to identify and correct problems within the VA. The House Veterans Affairs Committee has held multiple hearings on the crisis at VA from whistleblower protection (or lack thereof) to coordination between VHA and VA benefits as well as passing legislation on expanding the GI BILL and giving the Secretary authority to fire employees responsible for veterans deaths. Following their remarks, the Congressmen took questions from attendees. They heard firsthand details of the problems being endured by the clinicians and learned it was a retaliatory culture that prevails throughout VA — not just isolated cases. The topic of protecting physicians against retaliation for raising problems to the leadership was raised by many of the participants. Physicians shared examples of retaliation, operational requirements that keep physicians too busy with clerical work and EHR requirements to properly treat their patients.
Summit attendees clearly were heard, because Representatives Miller and Benishek mentioned their participation in the NAVAPD Summit and recounted comments made by our participants at the June 12 Hearing '"Bureaucratic Barriers to Veterans Care" which was attended by nearly 50 attendees from the Summit. For many of the attendees it was their first opportunity to see Congress in action.
Clearly much of what was heard at our Summit resonated as Chairman Miller developed some of his questions for then Acting Under Secretary Jesse during the hearing. Input from NAVAPD was also mentioned by Congressman Benishek during his interaction with Dr. Jesse.
In addition to attending the hearing, June 12 was NAVAPD Hill Day and a contingent of Summit attendees traveled to Capitol Hill to receive briefings from House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees’ key staffers. The Senate passed the Veterans bill authored by Senators Sanders and McCain on June 11 and the staff provided the participants with details of the legislation. A summary of this bill is included in this Newsletter.
Comments from those who attended this Summit have been extremely positive. Especially positive appeared to be the opportunity to speak directly with Congressmen and congressional staff, and to observe how the hearings on the VA are conducted. Attendees appreciated that Congress clearly is not attacking the care providers at the VA, but rather the lack of effective leadership, administrative barriers and bureaucratic layering. Attendees also expressed their gratitude and support for NAVAPD being their voice in Washington.
The goals of the Summit were met and communication with the Hill and VA leadership will continue. Video footage from the Summit is below.