“Support Our Troops” is a common sentiment in the United States, but the men and women who have served in the armed services often don’t get the support they need. A prime example of this is the Veterans Administration (VA), the government department responsible for providing services to people who have served in the military.
The VA runs a national system of hospitals for former service members that in recent years has come under heavy criticism for failing to provide adequate care. And one of the chief complaints is that patients are forced to wait for weeks, sometimes even months, to receive basic medical services.
Long wait times at a hospital or urgent care are nothing new, but the patient backlog at the VA grew so dire that in May 2014 the Veterans Health Administration’s top health official and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs were forced to resign in the wake of reports that nearly 40 vets in Arizona had died while waiting to be treated. That’s right – wait times are so long that people are dying before they can see a doctor. This is absolutely unacceptable. Within a month of their resignations the White House publicly upbraided the VA for “significant and chronic system failures,” and Congress quickly passed bipartisan legislation to reform the VA.
Improvements have been made over the last two years, but the VA isn’t close to offering the quality of care that US veterans deserve. According to USA Today, “the actual averages were between 11 and 48 days” when it came to scheduling appointments for veterans to see doctors. And even worse, several VA facilities have been called out for altering data to make wait times seem much lower than they actually are.
So what can be done about this situation? The obvious answer is to hire more care providers to serve the needs of veterans, but that will take years (and billions of dollars) to accomplish. In the shorter term, the VA can help veterans by implementing new programs that improve efficiencies and minimize red tape. That’s where line management comes into the picture.
Right now there is such a backlog at VA hospitals that admins are actually calling patients to schedule appointments months after they’ve died. There are hundreds of horror stories of vets not having any way to know if an appointment has been made and, if so, when it will be. By implementing a line-management system, the VA could not only make appointments but also let vets know when they can see a doctor. This would allow patients to make educated choices about their care rather than being left in limbo as their health deteriorates – or worse.
There is no simple way to fix the issues at the VA. They are decades in the making, and will require massive cultural change, increased funding, and a fundamental shift in approach. But by activating a line-management system the agency could begin the process of removing barriers to transparency and give veterans the information they need to make important medical decisions rather than being left in the dark.