VA making a difference for those who served country

Every year on Veterans Day, we reflect on the contributions and sacrifices of those men and women who have worn the uniform of this great nation. Veterans are part of a select group of American patriots. This is not my opinion; it a mathematical fact! At any given time, less than 1 percent of Americans serve in the U.S. military.

That means 99 percent of our fellow citizens rest comfortably at night, go about business without fear, and peacefully raise families because America’s veterans were willing to endure extreme hardship, long separations from loved ones, to protect all of us.

I grew up in a traditional family that valued hard work, being a good neighbor, and keeping your word. My father was a veteran, and although he didn’t talk much about his service, he made certain we always showed veterans proper respect. My father believed one of the exceptional gifts America offers is the gift of opportunity; we could become anything if we worked hard enough.

My father taught me this amazing gift was protected by the men and women who made enormous sacrifices for their families, neighbors and even people they didn’t know. They didn’t do it for money or fame; they did it because it was the right thing to do. My father taught me, and I believe, veterans deserve our respect and unending gratitude.

In 1993, I chose to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs for those reasons. It was my opportunity to repay the debt owed veterans for the sacrifices they made to protect our way of life. Even though my dad is gone, I hope I make him proud every day of my service to those values we hold dear. My dad received care at a VA clinic in Florida and in at one in Delmarva.

He was surprised at the compassion and high-quality care he received. My standard for how we treat veterans is simple — it is to treat all veterans as if they were my father. My variation of the golden rule: “Do unto veterans, as they have done unto us, selflessly, courageously, and diligently.” America’s veterans gave their best; they deserve nothing less from us.

This past year, we have read the reports when VA has fallen short of that standard. When this happens, it is our duty and obligation to improve, and that is what drives us forward.

Let me share some unknown facts about the VA system of care:

William B. Callahan Jr.

Robert W. Callahan Jr.

• The RAND Corporation analyzed the quality of VA health care [compared] with that of the private sector. Out of 47 measures of quality care, VA outranked the private sector in 45 measures. And the other two? VA tied.

• VA developed implantable pacemakers.

• VA did the first successful liver transplant.

• VA researchers discovered baby aspirin prevents heart attacks.

• VA created the nicotine patch.

• VA identified genetic risk factors for schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and Werner’s syndrome.

• A report by the Institute for Population Health Improvement at UC Davis found cancer patients receiving VA care had superior outcomes compared to those using other providers.

• VA has affiliations with many of the best medical schools in the nation and trains more medical professionals than any other health care system.

• An estimated 70 percent of all U.S. doctors were trained at a VA facility.

These are national achievements we take pride in because we contribute to them. I am equally proud of what we are doing at Wilmington.

• The Wilmington VAMC Community Living Center is in the top 10 nationally for quality and patient-centeredness.

• We train health care professionals through 52 affiliations.

• Wilmington received the 2016 Greenhealth Partner for Change Award for superior performance in environmental sustainability.

• VA’s National Center for Patient Safety awarded Wilmington VAMC the Cornerstone Gold Award.

What VA does can best be summarized in a letter I received from a veteran:

“Recognizing that my soul was somehow wounded and that my efforts to suppress the pain through self-medication were not working, I came to you, desperate for help. Quite frankly I was afraid to come here. I was afraid of what people might think of me. I was worried how coming here might affect my military career and I thought that the hospital I was going to find would be like the one in the movie, “Born on the Fourth of July.”

Instead, much to my surprise, what I found was a collective body of professionals, subject matter experts in a historic but state of the art facility, who were willing to do everything in their power to assist me, to help me find peace, wholeness and healing. It would not be an exaggeration to say that you saved my life. You helped me to find the footing, to rediscover my inner resilience and to find peace and hope.”

For this veteran, and for so many others, VA is making a difference. VA is bringing healing and hope to those who thought it was lost. It is indeed a noble and honorable mission to which the employees of VA are committed.

My first four weeks at Wilmington VA have been extremely busy getting to learn the medical center. I’ve talked with Veterans, completed two employee town hall meetings, met with congressional representatives in Delaware and New Jersey, forged a new labor management partnership with our two labor unions, visited two community based clinics and visited many work units.

It’s very clear we have tremendous community interest, support for veterans, and an eager workforce to write a new chapter in our long history of caring for America’s heroes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Robert W. Callahan Jr. is the acting director of the Wilmington VA Medical Center.

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