VA Budget Request Signals Commitment to Vets

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2011 — Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s $132 bil­lion 2012 bud­get request for the Vet­er­ans Affairs Depart­ment demon­strates that despite a tight fis­cal envi­ron­ment, the Unit­ed States stands by its com­mit­ment to men and women who have served in uni­form, Deputy VA Sec­re­tary W. Scott Gould told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.
“It says that VA and vet­er­ans are the president’s top pri­or­i­ty,” Gould said dur­ing an inter­view in Snow­mass Vil­lage, Colo., last week at the 25th Nation­al Dis­abled Vet­er­ans Win­ter Sports Clin­ic.

Gould said the bud­get request reflects a renewed com­mit­ment to VA’s char­ter as Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln enun­ci­at­ed it in his sec­ond inau­gur­al address: “to care for him who shall have borne the bat­tle, and for his wid­ow and his orphan.”

“If you look at our fis­cal year 2010 bud­get, it was the largest in 30 years,” Gould said. “It was fol­lowed by anoth­er rough­ly 7 and a half per­cent in 2011, and now we have anoth­er 3 and a half per­cent on top of that. So it is a strik­ing lev­el of invest­ment by the admin­is­tra­tion.”

Gould cau­tioned, how­ev­er, that VA can’t take this com­mit­ment for grant­ed. “We are work­ing real­ly hard to make sure we use every dol­lar wise­ly,” he said.

The fis­cal 2012 bud­get request sup­ports VA’s five-year strate­gic plan, with pri­or­i­ty goals to:

— End vet­er­an home­less­ness by 2015, with $940 mil­lion in the fis­cal 2012 request for pro­grams to reduce and pre­vent home­less­ness among vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies;

— Imple­ment a paper­less claims-pro­cess­ing sys­tem by 2012, a major step toward elim­i­nat­ing the dis­abil­i­ty claims back­log so no vet­er­an has to wait more than 125 days for a deci­sion;

— Build and deploy an auto­mat­ed Post‑9/11 GI Bill ben­e­fits sys­tem to speed tuition and hous­ing pay­ments for all eli­gi­ble vet­er­ans;

— Cre­ate the next-gen­er­a­tion elec­tron­ic record sys­tem that begins when ser­vice mem­bers enlist in the mil­i­tary and remains with them through retire­ment or after they return to civil­ian life;

— Improve the qual­i­ty, access and val­ue of men­tal health care pro­vid­ed, with $6.2 mil­lion in the fis­cal 2012 request for men­tal health pro­grams, includ­ing $68 mil­lion for sui­cide pre­ven­tion; and

— Deploy a new man­age­ment pro­gram to improve client access to VA ser­vices and ben­e­fits by June 2012.

“We have a very bold strat­e­gy,” Gould said. “And we are very focused on mak­ing sure that we get the resources to sup­port it in a way that ties the bud­get to this strate­gic strat­e­gy.”

Much of VA’s focus is on mak­ing the orga­ni­za­tion­al changes and sys­tems improve­ments required for it to func­tion more effi­cient­ly and effec­tive­ly, Gould said.

“We want to invest in the peo­ple, their train­ing and the sys­tems that make our orga­ni­za­tion more intel­li­gent, more able to deliv­er on the promise of these pri­or­i­ties and the over­all strat­e­gy,” he explained.

VA is work­ing to trans­form into Sec­re­tary Eric K. Shinseki’s vision of a vet­er­an-cen­tric, results-dri­ven, for­ward-look­ing orga­ni­za­tion, Gould said.

This, Gould said, involves new man­age­ment sys­tems that ensure account­abil­i­ty as well as max­i­mum effi­cien­cy and effec­tive­ness, while elim­i­nat­ing waste and improv­ing the deliv­ery of high-qual­i­ty and time­ly vet­er­ans ben­e­fits and ser­vices. Toward that end, VA is seek­ing near­ly $3.2 bil­lion for fis­cal 2012 to main­tain and improve its infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy sys­tems.

Gould report­ed progress already made on the IT front. “Two years ago, only 20 per­cent of projects were on time, on bud­get and to tech­ni­cal stan­dards,” he said. “Today, 80 per­cent are.”

Sim­i­lar improve­ments are bear­ing fruit in how VA man­ages its human resources. “Two years ago when we start­ed hir­ing peo­ple, it took us 108 days,” Gould said. “Now we have it down to 76, and will achieve a goal by the year’s end of 60 days, the pri­vate-sec­tor stan­dard.”

Anoth­er improve­ment uses strate­gic sourc­ing, with VA’s sep­a­rate oper­at­ing units pool­ing their buy­ing pow­er to get the best price for their goods and ser­vices. Pre­vi­ous­ly, the department’s sep­a­rate oper­at­ing units did their buy­ing sep­a­rate­ly.

In addi­tion, VA adopt­ed a strate­gic cap­i­tal invest­ment plan that improves the way it man­ages its cap­i­tal infra­struc­ture –- 6,500 build­ings nation­wide, with a replace­ment val­ue of $87 bil­lion.

“Two years ago, there was no inte­grat­ed process for eval­u­at­ing where you would invest your next dol­lar in that phys­i­cal infra­struc­ture,” Gould said. Today, VA makes a busi­ness case for every pro­pos­al, pools these pro­pos­als, then eval­u­ates and pri­or­i­tizes them to iden­ti­fy the best use of its infra­struc­ture fund­ing.

“So now we can go to the sec­re­tary and say, ‘For the lim­it­ed dol­lars we have, here is the best invest­ment we can make to improve the secu­ri­ty and safe­ty of our vet­er­ans and improve qual­i­ty and access,’ ” Gould said.

Gould not­ed an adage in the health care realm: health care is 85 per­cent busi­ness sys­tems and 15 per­cent med­i­cine.

The VA’s health-care providers, who make up the country’s largest direct-care health sys­tem, receive con­sis­tent­ly high marks in the qual­i­ty of care they pro­vide, he said. In fact, he added, many are on par with their coun­ter­parts at the nation’s most pres­ti­gious hos­pi­tals and med­ical cen­ters.

“So think about how much cost [sav­ings] and how much poten­tial effi­cien­cy is cre­at­ed if you can improve the under­ly­ing sys­tems” that sup­port them, Gould said, “while giv­ing the doc­tors the max­i­mum free­dom to make the best judg­ment they can based on health care prin­ci­ples.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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