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VA clinic breaks ground to offer modern care

Lubbock VAMC


LUBBOCK, Texas - The new Lubbock VA clinic, which will be on the corner of 4th and Indiana, is planned to be modern with new developments.

As of now, the closest Veteran Affairs hospitals are in Amarillo and Big Spring. Both are more than 100 miles away from the Hub City. The new facility will provide more convenience to those who have fought for our country.

"Some of the Veterans are unable to go to Amarillo or Big Spring. Some of us can but it's better for us to have it here. It's a lot better and it's about time that we have something like this here," Veteran Jerry Lucero said.

Dalton Keel, the Clinical Service Chief, said the process of putting everything together was a group effort.

"There are four generals and then a fifth general who really are the group that got this started. Congressman Neugebauer was instrumental in putting the legislation forward and made this come to fruition," Keel said.

The hope is for the clinic to be finished by January of 2021.


Trump says Ocasio-Cortez is right about Veterans Affairs

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President Trump seized on comments made by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a frequent lightning rod for criticism by Republicans, that Veterans Affairs is not broken – but that’s not all she said about the federal agency.

“Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is correct, the VA is not broken, it is doing great. But that is only because of the Trump Administration. We got Veterans Choice & Accountability passed,” the president wrote on Twitter Wednesday.

“‘President Trump deserves a lot of credit.’ Dan Caldwell, Concerned Veterans of America,” Trump continued.

In a speech last week, the freshman Democrat addressed a proposal to privatize parts of the VA.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Ocasio-Cortez said, adding that it provides the “highest quality healthcare.”

But she had more to say.

“They are trying to fix it. But who are they trying to fix it for? That’s that question we have to ask,” she said during a town hall in the Bronx last Tuesday.

“And this is who they’re trying to fix it for: They’re trying to fix the VA for pharmaceutical companies, they’re trying to fix the VA for insurance corporations and ultimately they’re trying to fix the VA for for-profit health care industry that does not put people or Veterans first,” she said. “We have a responsibility to protect it.”

In a Twitter post from last Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez urged Congress not to “starve it + then sell it off for parts.”

“We should fight to fully fund the VA + hire to fill its 49,000 vacancies,” she said.

Trump signed the VA Mission Act in June 2018 that would expand private health care options for Veterans.

But critics say it would lead to privatization of the VA, erode the quality of care and harm Veterans.


VA’s improvements to Veteran community care under MISSION Act on track for June 6 implementation

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As the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s signing of the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act of 2018 approaches on June 6, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is making significant strides in implementing major improvements to community care for Veterans.

“The Veteran is at the center of everything we do,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said. “Through the MISSION Act, Veterans will have more choices than ever in getting timely, high-quality care. Most important, Veterans will be able to decide what is important and best for them.”

The MISSION Act will strengthen VA’s health care system by improving both aspects of care delivery and empowering Veterans to find the balance in the system that is right for them,

A key aspect of the MISSION Act is the consolidation of VA’s community care programs, which will make community care work better for Veterans and their families, providers and VA employees. When this transition is complete, the following will occur:

  • Veterans will have more options for community care.
  • Eligibility criteria for community care will be expanded, including new access standards.
  • Scheduling appointments will be easier, and care coordination between VA and community providers will be better.
  • Eligible Veterans will have access to a network of walk-in and urgent care facilities for minor injuries and illnesses.

“Transitioning to the new eligibility criteria for community care should be seamless for Veterans,” Wilkie said. “Veterans will continue to talk to their care team or scheduler as they have been doing to get the care they need.”

VA also has been working closely with community providers to ensure Veterans have a positive experience when receiving community care. For example, VA has developed education and training materials to help community providers understand some of the unique challenges Veterans can face.

Going forward, community care will be easier to use, and Veterans will remain at the center of their VA health care decisions.

In addition to information VA has made available digitally, Veterans enrolled in VA health care can expect to receive a letter in the mail providing details on where to go for more information.

For more information about community care under the MISSION Act, visit here.


American Legion Auxiliary partners with VA to help Veterans find their way around VA hospitals

Find Their Way Around


Recruiting for Red Coat Ambassadors

Every April, the nation recognizes health care and other volunteers and the services they provide. Across VA, volunteers donate thousands of hours at various sites of care. To ensure a consistent and positive Veteran experience, the Red Coat Ambassador volunteer program is now at every VA medical center.

What exactly is a VA Red Coat Ambassador volunteer?

The VA is fortunate to have talented volunteers, many of whom are Veterans, family members of Veterans, or just someone interested in giving back to Veterans. They donate their time to greet and assist patients and hospital visitors. But more Red Coat Ambassador are always needed, and the American Legion Auxiliary is helping to connect more volunteers to these vital positions at VA.

The VA is proud to have this continued partnership with the ALA to support the VA’s Red Coat Ambassador and volunteer programs.

The American Legion Auxiliary is the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization with over 700,000 members and presence in more than 8,600 communities which provide volunteers in support of Veteran and families initiatives. Efforts like the ALA’s are improving the overall VA patient experience.

VA measures customer experience through ease, effectiveness, and emotion. Since 2017 more than 2.5 million Veterans have sent VA feedback via Veterans Signals, VA’s Customer Experience Feedback Survey. In April 2019, 93.2% of Veterans responded that it was easy to find their appointment, up from 91.1% in April 2018. VA volunteers like the Red Coat Ambassadors make a huge impact.

Veterans who were surveyed recently said:

  • “In all my 64 years, I have never met a team more deserving of praise. From the volunteers at the door to greet you to the healthcare provider, the VA offers security good health treatment and advice. I’ve never dealt with a medical staff that shows so much concern for the Veteran. Thank you VA.”
  • “My experiences at the CG VA have been nothing but good. Polite and cheerful greetings from staff. Appointments on time and very worthwhile.”
  • “The service there is so great and everyone always greets us with a smile and a Thank You For Your Service. The audio tech really knew what she was doing and was eager to help us. As always, a good experience. We like going there.”

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a volunteer with VA, you can start by talking with your local VA medical center or your local American Legion Auxiliary.

For more information online visit:


Ocasio-Cortez defends VA healthcare to Veterans: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., defended the treatment of Veterans by the Department of Veterans Affairs during a town hall event in her district last week.

The freshman congresswoman said privatization of the VA will not help Veterans because of the "for-profit healthcare industry."

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Ocasio-Cortez, 29, said, insisting the VA provides "some of the highest quality" healthcare for Veterans. She said people who advocate for a privatized VA are only trying to fix it in favor of pharmaceutical companies.

"Here's the thing, they are trying to fix it. But who are they are trying to fix it for, is the question we gotta ask ...They are trying to fix the VA for pharmaceutical companies, they are trying to fix the VA for insurance corporations, and, ultimately, they are trying to fix the VA for a for-profit healthcare industry that does not put people or Veterans first," she said.

Because people are trying to privatize the VA, Ocasio-Cortez said, "We have a responsibility to protect it."

Calls to privatize the VA were heightened after news broke of secret waiting lists, which delayed many Veterans' care, in 2014. For instance, CNN reported at least 40 people died waiting for time-sensitive care because of the lists at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system.

The Nation reported the socialist Democrat said the main problem with the department is that it is understaffed.

"If we really want to fix the VA so badly, let’s start hiring, and fill up some of those 49,000 [staff] vacancies,” she said, adding the VA would be a blueprint if "Medicare for all" were to pass: “If you ask me, I would like VA for all."


Veterans Affairs Cerner EHR Replacement For VistA To Cost 60 Percent More

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The new Cerner electronic health records replacement for VA’s VistA system will cost 60 percent more after less than one year of implementation, estimated at $16.1 billion.

The original cost estimate for the EHR solution was $10 billion. The agency went back and forth over the Cerner deal, which was inked by Secretary Wilkie before he was confirmed as the replacement for David Shulkin, MD.

Cerner received a no-bid contract for the deal after securing the same for the Department of Defense. Neither contract deal has proceeded as planned with the current cost increases coming out one year after the deal was inked.

The deal received much pushback one year ago when numerous authorities in the field projected the EHR transition has less than a 10 percent chance of succeeding.

One factor raised is the size of the Cerner system and its broadband requirements when communicating inside and outside each facility.

Another issue recently addressed is that the current Cerner EHR system is designed for insurance billing purposes. This means the new system may not adequately address the needs of federal agencies that do not bill insurance companies.

“VA is different. The focus of the VA’s electronic medical record is never about clinical documentation to support billing. It’s about giving the information to the provider at the right time to inform the best care. There are true risks to patients if they don’t do this right,” Heather Woodward-Hagg, PhD, former National Program Director (Acting), Veterans Engineering Resource Centers (VERC) and Founding Director, Veterans Affairs Center for Applied System Engineering (VA-CASE), told ProPublica.

Word is the transition, if it works, will cost tens of billions due to the size and complexity of not only the software but also the hardware required for such a behemoth to operate effectively.


VA office in charge of protecting whistleblowers from retaliation is under investigation... for retaliating on whistleblowers

Whistle Blower


The Department of Veterans Affairs office created to protect whistleblowers from retaliation is itself under investigation for — wait for it, wait for it — retaliation against whistleblowers.

According to Eric Katz of Government Executive, the nascent Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection has come under investigation by the VA Inspector General by employees who feel "betrayed or neglected by an office they believed was going to help them but ended up doing the opposite."

Established by President Donald Trump through an executive order in April 2017, the Washington, D.C-based OAWP serves to "improve the performance and accountability of VA senior executives and employees" by investigating allegations and concerns sent in by whistleblowers, according to its website.

"Additionally, OAWP provides the protection of valued VA whistleblowers against retaliation for their disclosures."

Except, apparently, when they don't.

Here's Government Executive:

Dan Martin, a chief engineer at VA's Northern Indiana Health Care System, said OAWP failed to protect him when his case came before it. Martin said in 2016 he discovered contracting violations related to a non-functioning water filtration system, but when he reported the problems to superiors he was stripped of his responsibilities and sent to work in an office without heat or air conditioning. The VA inspector general launched an investigation into the contracting practices, and asked Martin to surreptitiously record conversations with procurement officers, Martin said.

It was not until OAWP got involved in the case that Martin's supervisors became aware of that cooperation. When OAWP allegedly shared that information with leadership at his facility, Martin said his supervisors "had no choice but to shut me down" so he could no longer send recordings about the supervisors' "very inappropriate relationships with contractors" to investigators in the OIG.

Although the stories among VA employees shared with Government Executive don't seem to show OAWP directly retaliating against whistleblowers, its apparent practice of sharing the names of who's talking to them with the the people most likely to get in trouble if a whistleblower claim is substantiated seems, uh, well, not so good.

According to a July 2018 Government Accountability Office report, in some cases the actual VA program offices or facilities where a whistleblower reported misconduct was the same office doing the investigation. Which isn't a conflict of interest or anything.

That practice has since been stopped, VA spokesman Curt Cashour told Government Executive.

In a statement to Task & Purpose, Cashour said VA "welcomes the inspector general's oversight, and for the last several months we've been cooperating closely with the IG on its assessment and encouraging the office to release its report as soon as possible."

While Cashour could not comment on specific complaints from the current and former employees — saying they had not provided written consent for him to do so — he added, "we had hoped to receive the IG's report on this assessment in January, when VA Assistant Secretary for Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Dr. Tamara Bonzanto was sworn in so she could use it as a roadmap to ensure OAWP is operating exactly as Congress intended and with maximum efficiency.

Without the benefit of the IG's recommendations, however, Dr. Bonzanto has been assessing OAWP's performance and has been working on a number of key improvements to ensure the office is complying with Congress' intent. These include providing timelier resolutions, more responsive recommendations and enhancing communications with whistleblowers."


VA ensures Veterans have same-day access to emergency mental health care

Emergency Room


As part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) efforts to provide the best mental health care access possible, VA is reminding Veterans that it offers all Veterans same-day access to emergency mental health care at any VA health care facility across the country.

“Providing same-day 24/7 access to mental health crisis intervention and support for Veterans, service members and their families is our top clinical priority,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It’s important that all Veterans, their family and friends know that help is easily available.”

VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention is the national leader in making high-quality mental health care and suicide prevention resources available to Veterans through a full spectrum of outpatient, inpatient and telemental health services.

Additionally, VA has developed the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, which reflects the department’s vision for a coordinated effort to prevent suicide among all service members and Veterans. This strategy maintains VA’s focus on high-risk individuals in health care settings, while also adopting a broad public health approach to suicide prevention.

VA has supported numerous Veterans and has the capacity to assist more. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, 1.7 million Veterans received Veterans Health Administration (VHA) mental health services. These patients received more than 84,000 psychiatric hospital stays, about 41,700 residential stays and more than 21 million outpatient encounters.

Nationally, in the first quarter of FY 2019, 90% of new patients completed an appointment in a mental health clinic within 30 days of scheduling an appointment, and 96.8% of established patients completed a mental health appointment within 30 days of the day they requested. For FY 2018, 48% of initial, in-person Primary Care — Mental Health Integration (PC-MHI) encounters were on the same day as the patient’s PC encounter. During the first quarter of FY 2019, 51% of initial, in-person PC-MHI encounters were on the same day as the patient’s PC encounter.

Veterans in crisis – or those concerned about one – should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1, send a text message to 838255 or chat online at


Secretary Robert Wilkie Outlines Cultural Changes At The Department Of Veterans Affairs

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Robert Wilkie was appointed as the Secretary of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs last July. Wilkie grew up at Fort Bragg in a military family and still serves as an officer in the Air Force Reserve. As secretary of the cabinet level department, he’s responsible for ensuring the VA serves Veterans’ physical, mental, and emotional needs to the best of its ability.

It’s also a department that has seen its share of controversy over the years, including here in Wisconsin at the Tomah VA Medical Center. That was the center which was embroiled in scandal a few years ago involving the overprescription of opioid narcotics. But Wilkie says it was an opportunity to change.

"The most important lesson from Tomah was that it forced on VA a cultural change," he explains.

The Department of Veterans Affairs reanalyzed how it was prescribing pain medication and explored alternative therapies like tai chi and yoga. They did studies into the efficacy of opioids, compared to aspirin and ibuprofen.

Since then, Wilkie says, "We've reduced the rate of prescriptions for opioids for Veterans by 51 percent and we are the leaders in alternative therapies. So that is what that terrible thing led the entire department to do."

Wisconsin is also at the cutting edge of research into spinal cord injuries, such as those sustained in combat. Milwaukee's Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center is considered a hub of spinal cord research, treating injuries that were once usually fatal.

There is no shortage of problems facing U.S. Veterans. Suicide, homelessness, and addiction are all disproportionately high among Veterans when compared to the civilian population. Wilkie says these issues are frequently interconnected and part of complex solutions that must address several problems at once.

"We're talking about a continuum of effect. Opioid abuse, homelessness - suicide is on that continuum - and we just can't treat one of those things in isolation," he says.

Wilkie continues, "A few weeks ago, the president launched a nation-wide effort to tackle suicide, and that is with me in the lead as the representative of this department, but it also brings in the Department of Defense, the National Institute of Health, HHS [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services]. So it is not simply a whole of government effort but a whole of nation effort."


Social workers’ resources lifeline for Veterans

Social Workers


“The best networkers there are!”

“We meet people who have nothing, living on the street, no income, not connected with family, battling addiction, just really going through a tough time. I know how instrumental social work can be to get someone’s life back on track.” – Natosha LaCour, Social Work Supervisor.

Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center social workers are involved in nearly every aspect of Veteran care.

Social workers are a diverse group, ranging in specialties from mental health counseling to housing homeless Veterans. Many people think they just do discharge planning, but social workers are looking for resources as soon as the Veteran walks through the facility door.

“We are the best networkers there are,” said Claudia Mullin, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), in the Women’s Inpatient Specialty Environment of Recovery. “Helping to provide, look for, and research all potential options for Veterans really is a strength of our profession.”

Mullin is pictured above providing trauma therapy to a female Veteran.

One of the things that make social workers so valuable is their network of resources. Another is their ability to provide mental health counseling. In fact, they make up the largest group of mental health providers in the country.

Digging deep for the root of the problem

Mullin, who has more than 30 years of experience in mental health, said that social workers look past the diagnosis, digging deeper to find the root of the problem.

“We don’t see patients as their diagnoses,” she said. “The symptom is the tip of the iceberg. We try to address the psycho-social experiences that lead to the symptom. For instance, most substance abusers usually have trauma as a basis for why they’re self-medicating.”

For social workers, it’s about getting to the root of the problem so that the person can make real progress and sustain the results.

“I look at someone as a person, not the sum of his or her problems,” said Natosha LaCour, Community-Based Outpatient Clinic Social Work supervisor. “I believe we all have the power to impact change and help others. We want to empower them to help themselves.”

LaCour, who has worked in several areas of the hospital, said her time in Homeless Services impacted her the most.

Helping Veterans rediscover themselves, find a place to live, get a job, and pay their rent gave LaCour such a sense of service.

“There was a shine in their eyes, a sense of pride,” she said. “They felt complete again. I saw how impactful my role had been. That was the most rewarding time of my career. I’ll see some of my older Veterans from time to time and it’s always a nice reunion. You become a part of their lives. You’re in their homes. There is a different dynamic in the relationship.”

For Mullin, it has been her work with trauma survivors that has been the most impactful.

Observing transformation is “soul satisfying”

“The most rewarding experience for me is the almost miraculous healing that occurs when a survivor truly accepts and believes that they were not responsible in any way for what happened to them,” she said. “Observing the powerful transformation that occurs when victims go from surviving to thriving is soul satisfying.”

Social work allows for many of these types of career moments. It’s a problem solver’s dream.

“I love the challenge of problem solving,” said LaCour. “You’re constantly looking at different problems to come up with a treatment plan to impact a family’s life in a positive way. For every problem, there is a solution. Take things one day and one problem at a time. Every day is a new challenge.”


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