Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald told lawmakers on Thursday that by the end of 2016 veterans who walk into or call a VA medical center will have their clinical needs addressed "that day," while 90 percent of veterans appealing a compensation decision will -- with Congress' help -- get an answer within one year.
The ambitious commitments were two of a dozen "breakthrough priorities" that McDonald detailed for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
Eight of the priorities are specific to serving veterans and four are to meet department needs, but McDonald said Senators should "make no mistake -- all 12 are designed to improve the delivery of timely care and benefits to veterans .... We understand this will be a challenge, but we are committed to producing results for veterans."
The priorities also include:
-- Having all VA medical centers fully staffed up front with knowledgeable service-oriented employees.
-- Making sure vets needing to see a community provider do so within 30 days at least 85 percent of the time.
-- A disability claims backlog no more than 10 percent of inventory.
-- A more intuitive and efficient website for accessing information.
-- A well-staffed and courteous crisis hotline reachable by all veterans 24/7.
-- A more efficient and understandable compensation and pension exam process.
-- Continued progress in ending chronic veteran homelessness.
-- Ensuring all VA employees are trained to high customer-service standards.
-- Having 95 percent of all medical center directorships filled.
-- Closing 100 percent of current cybersecurity weaknesses.
-- Ensuring that half of all information technology projects are on time and on budget, with IT executives' performance goals tied to strategy goals.
-- A more efficient medical-supply chain that will result in $150 million in cost avoidances redirected to veteran programs.
One of the hurdles McDonald will face is in taming the growing backlog of appeals claims, which in some cases have dragged on for eight years as veterans continue to add evidence to their case.