A recent Rutgers University study conducted by the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center as a part of the Mineta National Transit Research Consortium shone a bright light on a topic close to the hearts of many injured and ill veterans: the importance of reliable transportation, including services that get them to and from VA health care appointments.
The researchers found that reintegration into civilian society is daunting for all veterans, and without appropriate information and support, it can easily become overwhelming. Veterans coping with one or more injuries — more than 25 percent of U.S. veterans, according to American Community Survey estimates — must address and overcome even more obstacles.
“Transportation may seem to be the least of their worries, but it is the lynchpin that connects disparate parts of daily living,” said study investigator Andrea Lubin. “Access to transportation must therefore be considered in any reintegration efforts.”
DAV launched the nationwide Transportation Network in 1987, after the federal government terminated its program to subsidize transportation for medical appointments. Since then, DAV has donated 2,967 vans worth $62 million to VA health care centers across the country to assist veterans with transportation needs.
This study comes on the heels of the Ford Motor Company Fund’s donation of seven Ford Flex utility vehicles to DAV. This most recent gift from Ford brings the total number of vehicles donated to DAV to 199 since 1996.
“The research confirms what we’ve known for decades—that transportation to and from hospital visits is critical for veterans who might otherwise go without the health care services they’ve earned,” said John Kleindienst, DAV’s National Director of Voluntary Services. “Through the selfless service of our volunteers and donations from Ford and the public, we’re making sure veterans are not left behind.”
Since 1987, nearly 9,000 volunteer drivers have transported veterans to and from VA health care facilities. This would not have been possible without the much-needed assistance from DAV’s Hospital Service Coordinators, who facilitate and make the necessary arrangements for these trips.
“Mobility limitations can adversely affect a veteran’s ability to reach medical services,” said study investigator Stephanie DiPetrillo. “Isolation, both physical and emotional, can make reintegration more difficult. Promoting transportation independence is a way to meet veterans’ needs.”
This is just one way in which DAV touches the lives of veterans each and every day. In the past year, DAV volunteer drivers provided 716,302 free rides for veterans to and from VA health care facilities.
“While the needs are on the rise, veterans service organizations are seeing a nationwide decline in volunteerism,” said Kleindienst. “It’s important that people know they can give back to our veterans and how meaningful this service is in their lives. It’s one thing to put a patriotic magnet on your car, but it says so much more when someone donates their time to recognize the contributions of veterans.”
To volunteer your time in helping to ensure veterans have transportation to and from these critical medical appointments, call Life Towne Center.
Electronic newsletters enhance participation, save funds
A relatively small change for one Chapter in Virginia has made a large impact and quite possibly saved it from closing.
“Chapter 10 is the largest in Virginia. We have over 3,000 members, but we were struggling to get 12 or more members to attend a meeting,” said Past Chapter Commander and Judge Advocate Shane Liermann. “At one point in 2010, they were considering closing the Chapter because we couldn’t make up a quorum. We had to do something.”
Chapter Adjutant John Maki and then-Commander Shane Liermann looked for solutions to affordably and effectively engage their membership. They decided to send members an electronic newsletter through social media and e-mail instead of mailing hard copies. This would not only save the Chapter money, but it would also greatly increase its reach to the members.
“We contacted DAV’s National Membership Department and received an electronic spreadsheet of our entire membership base with contact information, including e-mail addresses,” said Liermann. “Out of 3,000 members, around 1,100 had email addresses.”
The impact was almost immediate. At the first meeting after the newsletter was launched, participation was double the average.
“Close to 30 members attended the meeting, and four were new faces,” said Liermann, a Marine veteran who exited the Marines in 1996 and became a DAV life member in 1997. “The newsletter also gives us a format to engage the members who do not attend meetings. Over 30 different members sent us e-mails in response to our newsletter,” Liermann added. “They had inquiries about DAV membership cards, VA claims, DAV member benefits, Commonwealth of Virginia benefits and legislative issues. These members have not attended any Chapter meetings or events, but we have still engaged them.”
The success and impact of the electronic newsletter has been felt far beyond the Chapter. One subscriber contacted Chapter leadership last fall and was interested in doing something about benefits. Veterans in Virginia who are permanently rated 100-percent disabled by the VA receive real-estate-tax exemptions on their homes. This individual wanted to start a petition to include a property-tax exemption on one vehicle per year, per qualified veteran.
Last May, a resolution was introduced to DAV Virginia Chapter 10. It passed, and in August, the Department of Virginia released its first newsletter directly to 140 elected officials in Virginia.
“That resolution has been introduced to our legislators,” said Liermann. “The newsletter engaged a member, inspired a new resolution, and, ultimately, the newsletter was used to introduce it to our state legislators. That is a huge impact.”
The overall success of the electronic newsletter is perhaps best explained by the number of other Chapters that now utilize this format. The electronic newsletter was introduced at the Department of Virginia Spring Conference in 2014, and within a few months, four other Chapters in Virginia had started their own electronic newsletters.
“Bottom line, the electronic newsletter is the best thing we have ever done for Chapter publicity and staying in touch with our members,” said Maki, a Vietnam era veteran who served in the Army. “We are providing them with information about Chapter activities and services on a regular basis. We have gone from having barely enough members attending a meeting to having a quorum to seeing a steady increase in participation. Fifty members attended our most recent meeting. Our efforts have not gone unnoticed, and the Department of Virginia is now using the same technology to reach all members in the state.”
“When our local Chapters show this kind of commitment, drive and willingness to try new ideas, more men and women who served will see our country’s promises to them fulfilled,” said National Membership Director Doug Wells. “Membership is DAV’s lifeblood, and effective communication with our current members can go a tremendously long way in ensuring our continued growth, which means empowering our veterans to live high-quality and fulfilled lives.”
Although using electronic newsletters and social media are great tools to effectively and efficiently communicate with members, it may not be used for fundraising purposes. Our National Bylaws require chapters and departments to solicit and raise funds in their respective chartered territories. As electronic newsletters and social media, or any other web-based forum have a reach far beyond those geographical boundaries, we must ensure that electronic communications do not include any request or appeal for contributions.
To view the latest newsletter from Virginia Chapter 10, go to http://myemail.constantcontact.com/September-2015-newsletter-from-DAV-Arlington-Fairfax-Chapter-10.html?soid=1116188035539&aid=RMDdfNq0JVU.
We propose a new framework to meet the needs of the next generation of America’s veterans based on Rebuilding, Restructuring, Realigning and Reforming the VA health care system.
First, Rebuild and sustain VA’s capacity to provide timely, high quality health care.
- VA must able to recruit, hire and maintain clinical staff in a more expedient manner.
- VA must gain the commitment and funding to implement a long-term strategy to repair, maintain, expand and locate, as necessary, usable treatment space to maximize access points where and when veterans need to receive their care.
- VA must build upon its temporary access initiatives implemented last year by permanently extending hours of operations around the country at CBOCs and other VA treatment facilities to increase access for veterans outside traditional working hours.
- To provide the highest quality care, VA must sustain and strengthen clinical and biomedical research programs to prepare for veterans’ future health care needs.
- To support the teaching and research programs and to help support future staffing recruitment efforts, VA must sustain its academic affiliations programs.
Second, Restructure all non-VA care programs into a single integrated extended care network.
- VA must develop an integrated VA Extended Care Network which incorporates the best features of fee-basis, contract care, ARCH, PC3, “choice,” and other purchased care programs to assure that veterans have timely access to all necessary care when VA is unable to provide such care.
- VA must develop an appropriate and effective decision mechanism that ensures that veterans are able to access VA’s Extended Care Network whenever medially-necessary, as well as a new, transparent, and dedicated review and appeal process capable of making rapid decisions to ensure veterans have timely access.’
- VA and Congress must continue to analyze the effect of the temporary “choice” program to assess how it affects veterans health outcomes, commission new, independent research to review private sector access standards and recommend new VA access standards, and allow the Commission on Care to complete its study before making permanent legislative or regulatory changes to the VA health care system.
- Congress must create a single, separate and guaranteed funding mechanism for the VA Extended Care Network in order to protect it and the VA health care system from funding shortfalls.
Third, Realign and expand VA health care services to meet the diverse needs of future generations of veterans:
- VA must establish a nationwide system of “urgent care” services, beginning with VA expanding urgent care clinics with extended operating hours. The VA, like any large health care system should provide walk-in capability to meet the urgent care needs of enrolled veterans. Different than emergency care, these services would be delivered by dedicated doctors and nurses in existing VA facilities, or smaller urgent care clinics strategically situated in new locations around the country, such as in shopping malls.
- VA must extend access to care further through enhanced web-based and tele-medicine options to reach even the most remote and rural veterans.
- With veteran demographics continuing to change, VA must eliminate barriers and expand services to ensure that women veterans have equal access to high quality, gender-specific, holistic, preventative health care.
- VA must also rebalance its long-term supports and services to provide greater access to home- and community-based services to meet current and future needs, including expanding support for caregivers of veterans from all generations.
Fourth, Reform VA’s management of the health care system by increasing efficiency, transparency and accountability in order to become a veteran-centric organization.
- VA must begin by developing a new patient-driven scheduling system, including web and app-based programs that allow veterans to self-schedule (and re-schedule) health care appointments, with built-in reminders, rather than only relying on VA scheduling systems.
- VA must reform and strengthen its Patient Advocate program to achieve greater independence from VA facility leadership and greater authority to perform their duties to ensure that veterans receive timely, high-quality medical care services.
- VA must redesign its Performance and Accountability Report (PAR) to establish new metrics that are focused on veteran-centric outcomes with clear transparency and accountability mechanisms.
- To increase transparency and accountability in budgeting, VA should implement a PPBE (planning, programming, budgeting and execution) financial control system, which is already working for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Congress should approve pending legislation to bring this PPBE system to the VA.
- Finally, VA must hold all of its employees – from the Secretary to receptionists – to the highest standards, while always balancing the need to make the VA an employer of choice among federal agencies and the private sector.
During September, DAV National Legislative Director Joy Ilem and DAV Assistant National Legislative Director Shurhonda Love attended multiple panels to discuss the steps DAV is taking to bring women veterans issues to the forefront. As a legislative priority, DAV has worked to spread the message from the organization’s 2014 report Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home. At the National Foundation for Women Legislators Annual Conference in Oklahoma City, Love presented findings from the report, goals of DAV, and calls to action to implement change.
“Women are a rapidly increasing and important component of U.S. military services,” Love told attendees. “Of the 300,000 women who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, 161 have made the ultimate sacrifice and over a thousand have been wounded or injured. Following military service, women veterans are turning to VA in record numbers. In fact, the number of women seeking VA care has more than doubled over the past ten years and is projected to rise.”
At a panel in Washington D.C., titled Veterans: The New Battleground, Ilem represented DAV and provided information, guidance, and answers to the crowd and online viewers regarding women veteran issues, and what DAV is trying to achieve. Ilem said a priority for her and her team is to bring attention to the unique issues women veterans face
“For example, VA has the best programs for homeless, bar none,” Ilem told the audience, “but if a woman comes to VA and says, ‘I need help for me and my kids,’ the VA couldn’t accommodate that veteran, because by law, they can’t house children. So the woman would walk away.”
On September 30, 2015, the House passed S. 2082, the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act. This bill, which cleared the Senate a week earlier, extends VA authority to continue certain VA programs, including its Caregiver Support Program. While this measure did not eliminate the sunset date and funding cap for the Caregiver Support Program, DAV worked closely with appropriators and authorizers, strongly recommending an additional $74 million above the President’s request for this program for fiscal year 2016 to which Congress agreed.
Additionally, the bill would extend VA’s program for child care assistance and the pilot program on counseling in retreat settings for women veterans. DAV called on Congress in April to make the retreat-based counseling program permanent, as well as to improve access to child care and provide better responses to the needs of women veterans as they transition to civilian life. These recommendations were highlighted in DAV’s 2014 report Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home.
This bill was signed by the President and is now Public Law 114-58.