Veterans Affairs Department officials who promised to simplify the agency are touting major progress after settling on a single map of the United States.

If that seems overly bureaucratic, keep in mind the department currently uses at least nine maps of America, subdividing the country into dozens of regional networks and administrative responsibilities for hundreds of programs.

By midsummer, all VA agencies should be sharing the same latitude and longitude, coordinating efforts along a newly drawn five-region map to allow veterans a single point of entry for a host of office offerings.

Officials offered few specifics on what they called "the biggest organizational change in VA history" but said the work will not immediately mean cuts to the 340,000-plus workforce.

"This is not about losing jobs," said Bob Snyder, executive director of the MyVA program office. "There is more than enough work to do at VA. ... This is about improving the veterans' experience."

Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald last fall touted the MyVA program as an overarching effort to provide better customer service to veterans by trimming excess layers like duplicative hotlines and single-subject offices to combat the public image of VA as an unwieldy bureaucracy.

So far, the program has produced changes like better signage at hospitals and more independent authority for call center operators on veterans benefits issues. The map change, officials said, has the potential to improve communication and coordination between offices that previously had little interaction, creating more one-stop shops for veterans.

But details on exactly how that will happen won't be decided for months.

Regional offices overseeing things like benefits processing, home loan awards, public affairs work, technology support and health care services will each have to determine how to realign their operations in light of the new departmental map.

Officials on a briefing call with reporters Monday said the map announcement was designed to give an update on the greater MyVA simplification efforts, and to reassure veterans that work is taking place.

In a statement, McDonald called the work a "first step in empowering veterans to interact with one VA" and a way to "improve the veteran experience by enabling veterans to more easily ... access their earned care and benefits."

VA officers are expected to have plans in place to "ensure their structures are aligned within [the new map] framework" by the end of June.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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