During preparation for my confirmation as secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA), I was repeatedly asked, "Why doesn't VA just hand out vouchers allowing veterans to get care wherever they want?" For a department recovering from serious issues involving health care access and scheduling of appointments, that was a legitimate question.
After nine weeks at VA, travel to 31 VA facilities in 15 cities, discussions with hundreds of veterans and VA clinicians, meetings with 75 Members of Congress, two hearings before the Senate and House Veterans' Affairs committees and dozens of meetings with Veterans Service Organizations and other stakeholders, I can answer that question.
Almost 9 million veterans are enrolled to receive health care from VA — a unique, fully-integrated health care system, the largest in the nation. The VA stands atop a critical triad of support — three pillars that enable holistic health care for our patients: research, leading to advances in medical care; training that's essential to build and maintain proficiency of care; and delivery of clinical care to help those in need.
VA's accomplishments on all three pillars and contributions to the practice of medicine are as broad, historically significant and profound as they are generally unrecognized.