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Honoring Veterans Day by making progress for veterans
Sec. David Shulkin
The Hill
November 9, 2017

Veterans Day is a time to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have served this nation in uniform, but it’s also a time to assess the nation’s efforts at keeping President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have “borne the battle.”

This year, the nation’s leaders have joined together in support of the largest transformation and modernization of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in its history as a Cabinet-level department.

The president and Congress have enacted no fewer than five major pieces of legislation on a range of veterans issues: accountability, whistleblower protection, choice in health care, educational benefits and appeals modernization.

We have established the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection to ensure VA takes full advantage of new and existing authorities for disciplining or terminating those few employees who violate the public trust or otherwise fail to do right by veterans.

We have also created a new advisory committee to help us identify new ways of curbing fraud, waste and abuse.

This past summer, VA became the first agency to post information on employee disciplinary actions online and is now the most transparent health system in the country.

We now have same-day services for primary and mental health care at all of our medical centers. We have made it easier for veterans to file online health-care application forms — so much easier that we’ve received eight times as many online applications this year as last year.

In June, we initiated the process of replacing our aging VistA electronic health records system with the system already in use by the Department of Defense (DOD).

We are also in the process of disposing of 430 vacant buildings and are reviewing another 784 underutilized buildings for possible disposal.

We have also fielded a new predictive modeling tool called REACH VET allowing us to identify and treat veterans at higher risk for suicide, and in September we launched our “Be There” suicide prevention awareness campaign, featuring audio public service announcements narrated by Tom Hanks.

VA is working with Congress on the Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences (CARE) Act, which would replace the current 30-day/40-mile system with patient/provider decisionmaking based on clinical need and not arbitrary limits on time and distance.

This is an exciting time at the Department of Veterans Affairs, where, thanks to the efforts of our hardworking employees and the support of Congress and President Trump, we’ve enacted more reforms in the last several months than perhaps at any other time in recent history.

This Veterans Day, we are redoubling our efforts to continue getting things done on behalf of those who have worn the uniform. Our veterans deserve no less.

Read the full op-ed here.