January 2011 Archives

VA Posts Annual Medical Quality Report
Jan 6, 2011

Quality of Care Better than Private-Sector Health Plans

WASHINGTON - The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued the 2010 annual VA Facility Quality and Safety Report on Jan. 5 that reports on VA health care for Congressional review and offers Veterans the opportunity to see the quality and safety findings specific to their VA medical center.

"We believe in our mission to provide the best care anywhere for Veterans," said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel. "This posted report shows we are providing high quality overall and identifies the areas where we have opportunities to improve."

This is the third year VA is posting the annual report and the second year to do so voluntarily.

The Quality and Safety Report, at
http://www1.va.gov/health/HospitalReportCard.asp, provides a comprehensive snapshot of the quality of care VA provides at each of 153 medical facilities across the nation. When compared to private sector plans, VA's findings showed higher quality marks for VA health care. VA used industry-standard measures to score the quality of the care it delivers, and the report shows that, overall, VA's scores are better than private sector health plans. In addition to allowing VA to provide the public with an accounting of the quality and safety of its care, the report cards provide an opportunity for VA to make improvements where clinical indicators reflect cause for concern.

For instance, the findings related to quality of care for women and the perceptions of quality of care by ethnic minorities highlight that VA shares the same challenges as the private sector in providing equal care to all patients.

Committed to reversing these trends, VA has responded to these challenges in a variety of ways. For example, VA is evaluating emergency room (ER) care for women, rolling out an education plan for ER providers, implementing breast cancer registry to assist in follow-up of abnormal mammograms, and training 400 more

providers in basic and advanced "mini-residencies" in women's health.

Also, VA medical centers and clinics each have a minority Veterans program coordinator to provide outreach to minority Veterans, as well as
educate and sensitize VA staff to minority needs. The coordinators
advocate for minority Veterans by identifying gaps in services and making recommendations to improve service delivery.

"I hope every Veteran across America reads the report and learns more about the quality health care they have earned from a grateful nation,"
Petzel said. "VA will build from these results, addressing concerns where needed and building even stronger programs where there has been success. I am proud of the VA staff who serve Veterans every day."

The annual Facility Quality and Safety Report is just one of several public postings of various health care quality metrics for VA's medical facilities.

# # # #

** The 2010 VA Safety and Quality Report is available to the public on the VA website. Because the report contains more than two hundred pages, only a small number of printed copies were made, and VA asks that you please take VA's on-going efforts to be "green" into consideration
before making printed copies.

Enhanced VA Health Care Enrollment Opportunity Closing for Certain Combat Veterans
Jan 10, 2011

WASHINGTON (Jan. 10, 2011) - Certain combat Veterans who were discharged from active duty service before Jan. 28, 2003 have until Jan. 27, 2011 to take advantage of their enhanced health care enrollment opportunity through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

"While there is no time limit for Veterans to apply for the VA health care they earned with their service, I highly encourage this group of combat Veterans to take advantage of the enhanced enrollment window to use their health care benefits through this simplified process," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "VA has health care eligibility specialists online and at every medical center eager to help Veterans take advantage of this opportunity."

The enhanced enrollment window was provided for in Public Law 110-181, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008. That law gave combat Veterans who served after Nov. 11, 1998 but separated from service before Jan. 28, 2003, and did not enroll before Jan. 28, 2008, three years, beginning on Jan. 28, 2008, to apply for the enhanced enrollment opportunity.

These Veterans will still be able to apply for health benefits with VA after Jan. 27, but will have their status for receiving VA health care determined under normal VA procedures that base health care priority status on the severity of a service-connected disability or other eligibility factors. This would mean some Veterans could face income or asset-based restrictions, as well as delays in establishing their VA health care eligibility while their disability status is determined.

Since the inception of the enhanced enrollment opportunity, VA has sent more than 750,000 personal letters to eligible Veterans and hosted thousands of outreach efforts through OIF/OEF and enrollment coordinators stationed at every VA medical center.

Since June 2010, VA sent another 194,000 personal letters to give every eligible Veteran a chance to take advantage of this opportunity, but to date only 13,000 of these Veterans have enrolled.

The law does continue to provide the enhanced health care enrollment window to combat Veterans who were discharged or released from active service on or after January 28, 2003. For these Veterans, the five-year enrollment period begins on the discharge or separation date of the service member from active duty military service, or in the case of multiple call-ups, the most recent discharge date.

Veterans can apply for enrollment online at www.1010ez.med.va.gov/sec/vha/1010ez
<https://www.1010ez.med.va.gov/sec/vha/1010ez/> , by contacting VA at 1-877-222-VETS (8387) or with the help of a VA health care eligibility specialist at any VA medical center. Go to www2.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp for locations. For more information regarding enrollment, visit VA's eligibility site at www.va.gov/healtheligibility.

Top 10 Veterans Stories

January 12, 2011

Warner Releases VA Report on Female Veterans.  In continuing coverage, an AP (1/11, Sampson) story carried by at least 23 publications notes that on Monday, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) released a new Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General study that “says female military members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are more likely to be diagnosed with mental-health conditions than their male counterparts.” The study, which “also found that the benefits administration denies payment” for post-traumatic stress disorder claims at a higher rate for women than for men, “advises that the Veterans Benefits Administration better inform female veterans about specific services available to them.” Warner has “asked Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to correct” such issues.  According to a separate AP (1/11) story run by at least 11 news sources, Warner visited a VA hospital in Hampton, Virginia, on Monday “to discuss the findings of a study on female veterans who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.” The Newport News (VA) Daily Press (1/11, Chufo), meanwhile, notes that on Monday, Warner visited the Hampton VA, where he “said he was concerned whether…VA was adequately meeting” the needs of women veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Daily Press adds that Chandra Banks, “who’s with the nonprofit” Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, “applauded the report that…Warner pushed to fund.”

VA Office Developing Innovative Patient-Centered Model of Care for Veterans
Jan 20, 2011

Dr. Tracy Williams Gaudet to Lead Office

WASHINGTON (Jan. 19, 2011)-- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is creating a new office to develop personal, patient-centered models of care for Veterans who receive health care services at VA's more than 1,000 points of care across the Nation.

"VA has become one of the Nation's leaders in quality health care and is increasingly cited as the standard to emulate," said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert A. Petzel. "However, we must always continue to find ways to deliver more with our systems to the incredible patients we are honored to serve. We need to be data-driven, providing the treatments and therapies with the best clinical evidence, and we need to be patient-centered, never losing sight that we have been given the noble mission to care for our Nation's Veterans, families and survivors."

The new VA Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation began operations on Jan. 17 and is based in Arlington, Va.

The office's director, Dr. Tracy Williams Gaudet, comes to VA from Duke University Medical Center where she has served as the executive director of Duke Integrated Medicine since 2001. Dr. Gaudet received her Bachelor of Arts and medical degrees from Duke University.

"The VA's vision and commitment to cultural transformation comes at a pivotal moment for health care in this country, and I am deeply honored to be joining VA in this important work," said Dr. Gaudet. "The Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation will be a living, learning organization in which we will discover and demonstrate new models of care, analyze the results, and then create strategies that allow for their translation and implementation across the VA. VA will continue to be a national leader in innovation, and, in this way, we will provide the future of high-quality health care to our Veterans."

The VA Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation will have four regional implementation teams at select VA medical centers across the country: Birmingham, Ala; East Orange, N.J.; Dallas; and Los Angeles.

Each VA medical center was selected for excellence already demonstrated in producing cultures of patient-centered care based on established criteria. These regional teams, comprised of patient-centered care consultants, will be responsible for facilitating the culture change for patient-centered care at all VA facilities.

VA Publishes Final Regulation to Aid Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange in Korea
Jan 25, 2011

Will Provide Easier Path to Health Care and Benefits

WASHINGTON - Veterans exposed to herbicides while serving along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Korea will have an easier path to access quality health care and benefits under a Department of Veterans Affairs

(VA) final regulation that will expand the dates when illnesses caused by herbicide exposure can be presumed to be related to Agent Orange.

"VA's primary mission is to be an advocate for Veterans," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki "With this new regulation VA has cleared a path for more Veterans who served in the demilitarized zone in Korea to receive access to our quality health care and disability benefits for exposure to Agent Orange."

Under the final regulation published today in the Federal Register, VA will presume herbicide exposure for any Veteran who served between April 1, 1968, and Aug. 31, 1971, in a unit determined by VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) to have operated in an area in or near the Korean DMZ in which herbicides were applied.

Previously, VA recognized that Agent Orange exposure could only be conceded to Veterans who served in certain units along the Korean DMZ between April 1968 and July 1969.

In practical terms, eligible Veterans who have specific illnesses VA presumes to be associated with herbicide exposure do not have to prove an association between their illness and their military service. This "presumption" simplifies and speeds up the application process for benefits and ensures that Veterans receive the benefits they deserve.

Click on these links to learn about Veterans' diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure <http://www.publichealth.va.gov/PUBLICHEALTH/exposures/agentorange/disea

ses.asp> at

http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/diseases.asp and birth defects in children of Vietnam-era Veterans <http://www.publichealth.va.gov/PUBLICHEALTH/exposures/agentorange/birth

_defects.asp> at


VA encourages Veterans with covered service in Korea who have medical conditions that may be related to Agent Orange to submit their applications for access to VA health care and compensation as soon as possible so the agency can begin processing their claims.

Individuals can go to website


<http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/AO/claimherbicide.htm> to get a more complete understanding of how to file a claim for presumptive conditions related to herbicide exposure, as well as what evidence is needed by VA to make a decision about disability compensation or survivors benefits.

Additional information about Agent Orange and VA's services for Veterans exposed to the chemical is available at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange

<http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/> .

The regulation is available on the Office of the Federal Register website at http://www.ofr.gov/.

More Vets Approved for Agent Orange Claims
Jan 31st 2011

By Joyce Frieden, News Editor, MedPage Today
Published: January 29, 2011


WASHINGTON -- Veterans who served in Korea from 1968 through 1971 were probably exposed to Agent Orange, which makes them eligible for treatment at VA medical centers, according to a ruling from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"VA's primary mission is to be an advocate for veterans," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said in a statement. "With this new regulation VA has cleared a path for more veterans who served in the demilitarized zone in Korea to receive access to our quality healthcare and disability benefits for exposure to Agent Orange."

Agent Orange, a defoliant used to minimize concealment for enemy combatants in wooded areas, was used in the Vietnam War from 1965 to 1970. In total, it has affected an estimated 2.6 million U.S. military personnel, according to the VA.

In the past, the VA stipulated that Agent Orange exposure could only be assumed for veterans who served in particular units along the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ) between April 1968 and July 1969.

Under the new final rule, which was published this week in the Federal Register, the VA will presume herbicide exposure for any veteran who served between April 1, 1968, and Aug. 31, 1971, "in a unit determined by VA and the Department of Defense to have operated in an area in or near the Korean DMZ in which herbicides were applied," according to the statement.

In reality, veterans who have specific illnesses presumed to be caused by Agent Orange don't have to prove it happened during their military service, the department noted. "This 'presumption' simplifies and speeds up the application process for benefits and ensures that veterans receive the benefits they deserve."

The statement urges affected veterans to submit claims for access to care and compensation as soon as possible.

This week's announcement is the second recent effort by the VA to broaden the number of veterans eligible for care and compensation as a result of Agent Orange exposure.

In November 2010, the department began distributing disability benefits to veterans suffering from three additional illnesses -- B cell leukemias (such as hairy cell leukemia), Parkinson's disease, and ischemic heart diseases -- thought to stem from Agent Orange exposure.

The VA had already been paying out benefits in the case of 15 other illnesses, including acute and subacute transient peripheral neuropathy; chloracne; chronic lymphocytic leukemia; multiple myeloma; porphyria cutanea tarda; respiratory cancers; soft tissue sarcoma (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi's sarcoma, or mesothelioma); Hodgkin's disease, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, prostate cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

VA Hosts Public Forum to Improve Disability Compensation Criteria
Jan 31, 2011

VA Seeks Opinion of Veterans and Public and Private Experts

WASHINGTON - The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is hosting a public forum in Scottsdale, Ariz., aimed at improving the fairness of payments for Veterans who are service-connected for genitourinary, digestive, dental, infectious, immune disorder and nutritional deficiency diseases

and injuries.

"We welcome to this public forum key stakeholders, our nation's Veterans, Veterans service organizations, public and private health experts, health economists and Department of Defense professionals, who will provide us with the information we need to bring the disability rating criteria into the 21st century," said Acting Under Secretary for Benefits Michael Walcoff.

The focus of the forum is to assist VA in gathering information to update the Department's Schedule for Rating Disabilities. The schedule is used to assign levels of disability compensation for Veterans who are service-connected for these disabilities. The forum's agenda includes presentations by VA, DoD and private subject matter experts.

The forum is taking place from Jan. 25-28 and Jan. 31- Feb. 3 at DoubleTree Paradise Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. The meetings and working sessions will be held each day from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The public forum is the third in a series of meetings that will enable VA to make changes to the ratings schedule. It is part of a systematic update of all 15 body systems of the rating schedule, to be completed by 2016. The two previous forums held in 2010 focused on mental health and musculoskeletal disorders.

VA provides compensation and pension benefits to more than 4 million Veterans and other beneficiaries through a VA nationwide network of 57 regional offices. Currently, the basic monthly rate of compensation paid to Veterans ranges from $123 to $2,673.

Disability compensation is a non-taxable, monthly monetary benefit paid to Veterans who are disabled as a result of an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during active military service.

After finding that a Veteran's disability is service-connected, the rating schedule is applied to determine the level of disability, which ranges from zero to 100 percent. The Veteran then receives compensation payments based on the disability level assigned.

Veterans and other people seeking information about, or assistance with, VA compensation or pension benefits may call VA's toll-free number 1-800-827-1000, or go to www.vba.va.gov/VBA.