LACERTE: “Cautiously Optimistic” About Veterans Reforms

By David LaCerte

Louisiana Veterans Affairs Secretary

Over the past few weeks, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has faced unprecedented challenges as allegations of gross mismanagement and fraudulent behavior have been uncovered throughout the VA healthcare system. The news of failures across the system come on the heels of years of backlogs in the VA benefits division, failures to provide timely health services through VA care, continued rates of homelessness among Veterans, and more. There are many Veterans who have their disability benefits denied. If you or anyone you know have found themselves in this situation and live in the South Carolina area, you may want to look into something like va benefits and disability lawyer South Carolina to help get the benefits deserved.

In the wake of these issues, Eric Shinseki resigned as Secretary of VA, leaving the post open for new leadership to a struggling federal department mired in bureaucracy and inefficiencies.

Veteran leaders across our nation have shared their views on what characteristics they believe to be vital in a new VA Secretary and, upon the June 30, 2014 announcement of President Obama's intentions to appoint former Proctor and Gamble CEO Bob McDonald as new VA Secretary, I and many of my fellow Veterans find ourselves hopeful in what new leadership can bring.

As Secretary of Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs (LDVA) and a Veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, I have personally experienced serious problems with the federal VA system, both in terms of benefits management and healthcare. I have also had the privilege of meeting with Veterans from across Louisiana in order to learn first-hand what challenges they have faced when trying to access the VA benefits they earned through their military service. Based on my experiences and those reported to me by fellow Veterans, I have some advice to offer our new VA Secretary that I hope will be helpful in sorting through the monumental challenges we all know to exist.

First and foremost, I believe the non-VA care program needs strong attention and support. Previously, President Obama and then Secretary Shinseki identified non-VA care, that is care to Veterans conducted by providers outside the VA system, as an important release valve for the congested and often inefficient VA healthcare system. Unfortunately, the VA has either underutilized this vital tool, or has mismanaged it to near irreparable levels by accumulating a two-year backlog on payments to providers for treatment they provided directly to Veterans. Many veterans are forced to seek out support from people like Veterans Law when they do not receive payments that they are owed. Make no mistake, the VA healthcare system cannot fire on all cylinders without outside care options. The new VA Secretary will do well to develop a true “opt-out” feature for all Veterans who wish to use this option, free from bureaucratic controls and to support the outside providers who care for these Veterans through timely payments for their services. Making this freely available rather than continuing a culture of rationing care will go a long way in re-establishing trust among Veterans and the medical community that wants to serve them.

Secondly, I suggest that the VA seek more resources through partnerships in order to provide alternatives for and complementary care to what the VA system already has in place. It should be expected that an unfortunate side effect of the VA scandal will be that many of today’s Veterans may never again seek care within the VA system. However, by developing partnerships with non-profits, Veteran service organizations, local and state governments, the VA can still find ways to serve their mission and support the Veteran population. In Louisiana, we have found great success in partnering with many outside institutions such as Baton Rouge General Hospital which established a mental health wellness program to support military members, Veterans and their families.

Finally, I encourage the new VA Secretary to establish real, grounded and fully transparent lines of communication with Veterans, elected officials, and the public at large. Realistically acknowledging that trust has been broken and making a genuine effort to regain that trust is key to any forward movement the VA will be able to make.

There is an unprecedented amount of work to be done to turn things around at the VA, but I believe that with great challenges also comes great opportunity. I will remain watchful but I must admit that I am cautiously optimistic at what the future may hold and I wish the new VA secretary the best of luck with a promise of supporting any endeavors that seek to reform VA for the betterment of our brave Veterans.

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