Military News

Thursday, August 13, 2015

VA secretary visits JBER, lauds 673d medical personnel

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 joint-venture hospitals.

"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 said.

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.

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