I received a letter from a social worker at my local VA hospital this week. Apparently the VA has an annual OIF/OEF/OND Focus Group, and the letter was my invitation to participate and “discuss issues and concerns in regards to patient satisfaction.” The letter assures me that “leadership” from both the hospital and the region will be present to listen to feedback. I suspect their presence has something to do with the scandalous VA response to veterans’ healthcare needs and benefits claims, but perhaps they participate every year.
Unfortunately, the basic logistics of the focus group definitely suggest that the VA doesn’t begin understand the obligations or responsibilities of VA patients. The focus group I was invited to participate on will take place on a Friday from 1:30-3:00 pm. The VA is communicating an expectation that veterans continue to conform to its needs or infrastructure by scheduling a focus group for a population of working-age veterans – many of whom are likely working to support themselves or their families – during working hours. (Additional context for those who aren't VA patients: This is also how appointments are scheduled. Veterans are assigned an appointment time by the VA without any prior consultation regarding availability. The VA may unexpectedly cancel that appointment at a later date because it did not assign a doctor to the appointment and could not find any doctor able to accommodate the appointments it scheduled. The veteran is out of luck if he or she requested time off from work to attend their assigned appointment.)
Nowhere in the VA's mentality is there room for an admission or even acknowledgement that the VA will have to put in longer hours or inconvenience itself to repair its relationship with vets and best serve the people it exists to serve. A half day off from work is a luxury some veterans of my generation aren’t able to afford or can’t even request. (I suspect many working vets would be told not to come back to work for two more hours on a Friday afternoon, effectively forcing them to take a half-day off work if they attend.) If the VA misses feedback from veterans who can’t attend an event scheduled to at a time that ensures VA staff won’t be asked to work late to fix a big problem, that’s more evidence the problem persists in part because the VA doesn’t even know it exists yet.
The last time the VA had this many working-age, war veteran patients was between Vietnam and the 1990s. The VA needs to reacquaint itself with the schedules and needs of working veterans. Unfortunately, the only way it seems that will happen is if veterans shoulder yet another burden and come rescue the VA from itself.