Forward Observer — VA Perhaps Takes a Significant Step Towards Future Reforms Under MyVA Initiative

VA Announces Single Regional Framework under MyVA Initiative

Internal Organizations to Realign Their Existing Structures

LVMAC Poster Art 2005As a result of last year’s scandals, Washington Headquarters announced on 26 January that is taking the first steps under the MyVA initiative to realign its many organizational maps into one map with five regions utilizing state boundaries to better serve military veterans.  We will be part of Region 1 (the New England, Mid-Atlantic, and a couple of South Atlantic states).

Those more attuned to the organization of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognize that in addition to its three major administrations (Veterans Benefits Administration, Veterans Health Administration, and National Cemetery Administration) and the boundaries established for their regional offices and medical centers, one can also find functional-area overlays which cross regional office and medical center service boundaries.  Among these are the “center of expertise” processing centers for Pension Management Centers, the VA Regional Loan Centers, Insurance Centers, and Regional Processing Offices for education benefits.  In addition, the VA operates approximately a dozen internet websites. Not only do these jurisdiction differences confuse veterans, veterans service organizations, state governments and other agencies, they have also undoubtedly confounded VA employees – or this change which forebodes additional organizational changes would not be forthcoming.

The Washington Post reported on 26 January, “For years, the nine organizations within the department have divided the country into their own regions with little or no coordination.” The new Secretary of the VA, Robert McDonald, intends to remedy the  situation in one of the largest (if not largest) transformational efforts in the VA’s history. He has said, “We want every Veteran to have a seamless, integrated, and responsive VA customer service experience every time.  This regional alignment is the first step in empowering Veterans to interact with one VA – MyVA. Ultimately, this reform will improve the Veteran experience by enabling Veterans to more easily navigate VA and access their earned care and benefits.”

The VA aims to have the entire department aligned under the same service boundaries by 30 June.  What that exactly means in terms of needed structural reforms and changes in command structure within and among the three VA administrations is unclear to us.  We are not alone in our uncertainty, for the top man for veterans affairs in this state, Brigadier General Jerry Beck, Office of Veterans Affairs, PA Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, has been unable to obtain needed answers thus far.  Consequently, at the present time, the personal impact of the “regional alignment” on veterans is not apparent to us.  Nevertheless, we sense a move in the right direction and something substantively more important than another MyVA pronouncement that they are going to pilot test improved signage to make sure veterans know where they are going and that directions are easy to follow (sic) — especially if it results in better, professional interactions between federal, state and local agencies.

Indeed, one has to delve deeper into other writings on MyVA to make sense of it at all.  Little has been actually disseminated other than what the Secretary of the VA has announced on occasions.  Avoiding as much of the public relations pitter-patter as possible, the initiative focuses on five areas for improvement:

1) Improving the Veteran experience
2) Improving the employee experience so they can better serve Veterans
3) Improving internal support services
4) Establishing a culture of continuous improvement, and
5) Enhancing strategic partnerships.

While this still means little to the average veteran seeking service, the initiative does appear to be boiling down to future visible actions that will effect him/her.  According to Secretary McDonald, in his own words [sic, with minor editorial changes to pronouns]:

1) Establishing a new VA-wide customer service organization to ensure we provide top-level customer service to Veterans.  A Chief Customer Service Officer who reports to the Secretary will lead this effort.  The mission of the new office will be to drive VA culture and practices to understand and respond to the expectations of our Veteran customers.

2) Establishing a single regional framework that will simplify internal coordination, facilitate partnering and enhance customer service. This will allow Veterans to more easily navigate VA without having to understand our inner structure.

3) Working with its partners to establish a national network of Community Veteran Advisory Councils to coordinate better service delivery with local, state and community partners. Expanded public-private partnerships will help us coordinate Veteran-related issues with local, state and community partners, as well as VA employees.

4)  Identifying opportunities for VA to realign its internal business processes into a shared services model in which organizations across VA leverage the same support services, to improve efficiency, reduce costs and increase productivity across VA.  Right now, it is looking at options used in the private sector to enhance rapid delivery of services, and also at its own business processes that are suited for shared services.

With the customer service organization above to “supervise (?)” perhaps the other three items will be realized.  We certainly see the need for the VA to better integrate its efforts with other agencies and nonprofits in regional communities to improve its effectiveness and to gain efficiencies in inter- and intra-governmental services to veterans.  One can certainly hope for this, but more must be known about the transformation to believe in it.

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RJH
As of 2 February 2015

6 February:  revised to reflect that the VISN headquarters are not being done away with as previously told.

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