by Tech. Sgt. Robert Barnett
JBER Public Affairs
8/13/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Robert
McDonald, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs visited the
673rd Medical Group Aug. 11 to provide his insight and explain the
future of veterans' benefits.
"I'm used to going around the world," McDonald said. "I've developed an
eye for what to notice about an operation, just little things. For
example, in the restroom, is the area around the sink filled with water;
are people cleaning up the restroom when they're done?
"Do people walk by litter on the floor? Are there boards in the hallway
showing how they're using technology to improve the operation? I was
very impressed by what I saw [at the 673d MDG]," McDonald said.
The secretary described the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson hospital as clean and well-lit, with engaging personnel.
"There were people caring for patients, veterans were engaged - I just thought it was a really great operation," he said.
"What impressed me more than anything else was the way you couldn't tell
the difference between the active-duty people and the VA people. They
were both working hand-in-hand; it was incredibly hard to tell them
apart. They were both committed to the mission. I was very impressed."
During his visit, McDonald said he was committed to engaging with
elected officials to codify a long-term funding solution for all
"Nationally we've conducted seven million more completed appointments in the last year than in the previous year," he said.
"Of that, four and a half million were outside the VA, 'care in the
community' as we call it. The two-and-a-half-million balance was inside
VA. The Alaska health care system has completed more than 106,000 health
care appointments from June 2014 to June 2015.
"Nationally, 97 percent of our appointments are within 30 days of the
[veteran's] desired date...here in Alaska, that number's 98 percent," he
Among the various topics discussed, the secretary also emphasized the
VA's use of telehealth services, which use health information, disease
management and other technologies to target care and case management to
improve access to care, improving the health of veterans.
Telehealth allows patients to receive clinical care from their homes.
"We are, I would argue, global leaders in telehealth nationally,"
McDonald said. "Here, we are on the cutting edge of using telehealth to
reach veterans in rural areas.
We do that three ways: we have home telehealth, which allows veterans to
take regular readings like blood pressure so we can catch issues that
arise as they self-manage chronic diseases.
"A second is what we call store-and-forward, that enables us to capture
and store images from patients to specialists without having to come
into a clinic. This becomes very important for something like
dermatology, for example, where in the private sector it could take six
to nine months to make an appointment, but with digital photography the
way it is today, you can use broadband to transfer that image and have a
specialist look at it from afar.
"The third way is clinical video telehealth, where someone in a clinic
can communicate with a veteran in the comfort of his home. Having the
veteran [at home] is a big plus for something like mental health care
where coming to a clinic could be an anxiety-ridden situation."
An Army veteran, McDonald served in multiple units including the 82nd Airborne Division.
He is described as being personally committed to values-based leadership and to improving the lives of others.
This is the first time he has visited Alaska since his Arctic training in the 1970s, he said.
"I was much happier landing in the airplane than jumping out of it," he said.