COMMENTARY: VA stands ready to serve fellow American heroes

At the Wilmington VA Medical Center and our five community-based outpatient clinics, there are more than 900 dedicated staff, many of whom are veterans themselves, who are united in their mission to care for more than 28,000 American heroes.

No system is without challenges, but we shouldn’t be creating fear and doubt for those who are concerned about what happens if they get sick or need treatment for an existing condition. The VA is here for them. Our door is always open for the soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines who have proudly served our country and qualify for VA health care.

Our mission is to provide high-quality, compassionate health care that veterans have earned and deserve — when and where they need it.

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Robin C. Aube-Warren

In mid-April 2014, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs directed the Veterans Health Administration to complete a nationwide Access Audit to ensure there was a full understanding of VA’s policy among frontline scheduling staff, identify any inappropriate scheduling practices used by employees regarding veteran preferences for appointment dates, and review waiting-list management. At the conclusion of Wilmington’s Access Audit, auditors expressed concerns that there may have been some issues, and frontline staff needed more training on how to use the VISTA scheduling package.

As a result of the auditor’s initial report, without hesitation, I requested the VA Office of the Inspector General do an in-depth review of our scheduling practices. In 2014, as a new medical center director, assigned to Wilmington for only a month, I wanted to make sure staff members were compliant with VHA directives. I apologize that we didn’t always get things right.

The Office of Accountability and Review conducted an investigation, and disciplinary actions were taken against staff.

Long before the in-depth audit was released publicly, we took corrective actions to address issues from the preliminary Access Audit, including additional training for frontline staff for the VISTA scheduling package and hiring additional staff to improve access. We are continuing to review and audit scheduling practices.

Nearly two years later, we recognize there is still room for improvement, and we remain committed to our mission of providing quality, timely, compassionate care to America’s heroes.

We continue to focus on training, coaching and auditing our employees. Throughout the immediate and long term, we will continue to emphasize integrity, accountability, and customer service. I expect my staff to act in accordance with our values: Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence (I CARE) and will not tolerate anything less.

VA is the largest integrated health care network in the country, and we know veterans, which is why more than 8 million veterans make the VA their medical home. We are experts at understanding, treating and helping our nation’s heroes. VA provides veterans with a lifetime of continuity of care. It’s important they are seen and maintain their VA care. Providers seamlessly coordinate veterans’ care, in most cases all under one roof.

The message I want to make clear to veterans is that regardless of when you served, the professionals at the Wilmington VAMC are here to help.

To America’s heroes: Thank you for your service! To the many veterans who have written letters to me about how well we are doing — staff across the medical center sincerely appreciate your support; and to those who have made suggestions for improvement, I thank you for partnering with us to keep improving.

I invite you to learn more about the benefits you’ve earned. Please visit www.wilmington.va.gov to learn more about our facility, services and programs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Robin C. Aube-Warren, a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executive, is director of the Wilmington Veterans Administration Medical Center.

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