By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY – During a visit to WG Bill Hefner VA Medical Center on Friday, U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough spoke about COVID-19 recall deployments, the Mission Act and veteran suicide.
McDonough’s visit was to interview staff, union representatives and touring facilities. He took office in February and previously served as chief of staff in the administration of former President Barack Obama. It was McDonough’s third trip to North Carolina since assuming the role, which he called “an important state for veterans.”
COVID-19 recall shots
McDonough said the United States was about 10 days away from rolling out COVID-19 booster shots for eligible adults. As of Thursday, he estimates that 440,000 shots were administered at veterans affairs facilities, which represents about 15% of eligible veterans. McDonough said this rate shows the enthusiasm of veterans to receive the booster.
McDonough said about 2.8 million veterans are eligible, and he encourages them to get the flu shot with the booster in anticipation of a “difficult flu season.”
Law on missions
In June 2018, former President Donald Trump enacted a bipartisan law called the Mission Act that aims to expand veterans’ access to health care, including allowing them to seek community care if there is no local VA facility or if a facility is unable to provide the services. necessary. Updates to the law in 2019 provide veterans with certain emergency care benefits outside of VA facilities.
This week, USA Today Network reported a review of thousands of pages of service manuals and medical records, as well as interviews with dozens of patients, lawyers and providers, shows some VA administrators overturn doctors’ judgments and prevent them from sending their patients outside of the VA health care system.
McDonough said he read the report, which provided the department with additional information so that individual veterans could be contacted directly. Additionally, he said wait times were well managed at VA facilities.
âI am concerned that there are pockets where veterans are not receiving the world-class, timely care that they are entitled to expect,â he added. “And when we find out that it is, we go there and we respond to it.”
McDonough said the law allows the department to better compete with the private sector for access to health care and that “learning from individual cases” will better inform the report due to Congress this summer regarding implementation.
He added that concerns about wait times during the pandemic can be judged by the overall satisfaction rate, which hovers around 90% – although it should be 100%, he said.
âWe have seen a significant increase in the number of referrals in the community,â McDonough said. âNot only a number of referrals, but also an increase in the number of dollars we spend on community care. I think this is very important data that we can learn from as to what our veterans need from the community, how well the community is meeting their needs and how well can we meet their needs in the direct care system.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a report in September that showed veterans accounted for nearly 14% of all adult suicides in 2019, with veterans aged 55 to 74 being the most common.
McDonough encouraged all veterans and their loved ones to contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 or by texting 838255. He added that although a veteran is not in crisis at this time. At that time, don’t wait to reach out or seek care at the nearest VA facility or virtual telehealth appointments through the VA.
In addition, the ministry’s public awareness campaign on gun safety has garnered more than a billion views, McDonough said. He also said that up to 95% of suicide cases occur with the use of firearms, so the department provides information on best practices to “get some distance between times of crisis and guns, âMcDonough said.
Also during the visit, McDonough answered questions regarding WBTV reports mismanagement at the VA regional office, known as VISN 6, for over a year and subsequent retaliation against senior employees for their reported complaints.
The report found that officials at Salisbury VA Medical Center had failed to implement recommended discipline against two senior doctors involved in the sexual harassment of an employee who reported the incident.
To address existing cases and review those that have been closed, McDonough said he appreciated the “warning” on cases that date back to the previous administration, and should revisit those cases. Asked about concern that one of the officials was from Salisbury VA Medical Center, McDonough stressed that he was concerned about these issues and issues “constantly”.
“I’m going to make sure I go follow them and make sure I dig them,” he said.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.