Veterans will have same-day access to primary care appointments and mental health services at Veterans Affairs facilities by December, VA Secretary Bob McDonald promised Tuesday.
Addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, McDonald said veterans wait an average of five days for primary care, six days for specialty care and two for mental health services, but VA plans to reduce those further by the end of the year.
This, he added, while the department continues to set records for completed appointments — 5.3 million at VA hospitals and clinics and 730,000 at community care providers since March 2014.
"You've heard many times hat VA is broken. So I'll answer one question: Can the Department of Veterans Affairs be fixed? Can it be transformed? The answer is yes. Absolutely. Not only can it be transformed, transformation is well underway and we're already seeing results," he said.
VA launched a massive restructuring in 2015 following the appointment of McDonald, who was hired in the wake of a scandal over appointment wait times that led to the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The MyVA reform effort is designed to overhaul the VA's administrative practices and improve services, including disability claims processing, health care and outreach to homeless veterans.
At the convention, McDonald was introduced as the "man with the toughest job in the country." Veterans of Foreign Wars incoming commander Brian Duffy said the organization supports McDonald's goals to fix the VA.
"Our job as veterans advocates is to ensure the VA's success," Duffy said.
McDonald's address came between speeches by the presidential hopefuls at the conventions and following the release late last month of a blue ribbon panel's review of veterans affairs health.
Presumed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton pledged Monday to reduce wait times for medical care, improve coordination between military and VA health care coverage, boost programs for female veterans and to "end the epidemic of veteran suicide."
Following McDonald's delivery, Republican nominee Donald Trump promised a massive overhaul of the VA but also pledged not to dismantle the government-backed veterans health care system.
McDonald said under the guidance of Undersecretary of Health Dr. David Shulkin, VA is changing its approach to treating patients.
"VA health care is 'whole-veteran' health care — body, mind and soul, customized to meet veterans needs. Yoga? Acupuncture? Sports therapy, music therapy, writing and art therapy? We validate and embrace what works to heal veterans," he said.
Senior reporter Leo Shane III contributed to this report.
Patricia Kime covers military and veterans health care and medicine for Military Times. She can be reached at email@example.com.