Thanks to President Donald J. Trump’s leadership, the Department of Veterans Affairs has significantly improved service and care to American’s veteran community.
Despite this administration’s new level of excellence, some still debate the effectiveness of the VA — as if it’s 2009 and the department is beset with the previous administration’s long patient wait-times, problems with the suicide hotline and other now-resolved issues.
I want to urge these critics to update their information.
In the last few weeks, for example, one lawmaker said the VA needs reform because veterans are “waiting 30-60 days for an appointment.”
Yet, the latest studies show VA average wait times are shorter than private sector wait times for primary care and certain specialties. On average they are now 18.4 days for new patients, and just 4.3 days for established patients across our entire system.
On national television, I was confronted by a charge from a lawmaker complaining that calls to our Veterans Crisis Line are being sent to voicemail.
But that Veterans Crisis Line, which is meant to help Veterans who are at risk of suicide, doesn’t even have voicemail. In the last administration, there were problems with some calls going to backup call centers run by contractors that could sometimes lead to a voicemail. Not on our watch.
Under President Trump’s leadership, that issue has been fixed in its entirety.
Today, anyone who calls 1-800-273-8255 and presses “1” gets sent to a live person in an average of 8 seconds — that’s quicker than half of the industry target rate for crisis lines of 20 seconds.
We get an average of more than 1,700 calls to this line each day, and the rate at which calls are sent to a backup center is effectively zero — only about 1 in every 25,000. And those few that are sent to a backup center are also handled by real people, not voicemails.
We have heard vague charges that the VA is “rationing medicine.” Not true. That was a policy considered by the last administration, but not by President Trump and his team at the VA.
Some lawmakers even charged that we are waging a stealth campaign to privatize the department.
That’s an unfair misreading of what we’re doing. We’re putting veterans at the center of their health care decisions. Under legislation that a broad bipartisan majority in Congress supported last year — the VA MISSION Act — we’re letting veterans look to outside care when the VA can’t deliver what they need, or if it’s simply too long of a drive to get to a VA clinic.
What this president has ordered is simple. Veterans must have the ability to choose the health care providers they trust — something most Americans already have. That’s because the president has the common sense to recognize that veterans can sometimes benefit from care outside of the VA system.
What’s more, President Trump signed an executive order calling for a whole-of-government effort to chart a path toward ending veteran suicide, a key issue for our veterans.
As a part of President Trump’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis, our VA Opioid Safety Initiative has reduced the number of veterans on addictive opioids by 43,395 in President Trump’s first two years in office.
Instead of taking their cues from five-year old news clips or using the VA to make political points about socialized medicine, lawmakers would be better off looking at what our department is actually doing.
If they do, they’ll see a dramatically improved VA that’s working hand-in-hand with the private sector to accomplish the goal we’re all supposed to be aiming for: taking care of those who have worn the uniform.
Robert Wilkie (@SecWilkie) is secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.