Opinion: Improving Veterans' lives through partnerships that make a difference - Secretary's Center for Strategic Partnerships (SCSP)
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Secretary's Center for Strategic Partnerships (SCSP)


Opinion: Improving Veterans' lives through partnerships that make a difference

August 29, 2019

Why are big companies like Walmart, Philips, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to deliver telehealth services to rural Veterans?

Because VA, the nation’s largest healthcare system, is also the United States’ leader when it comes to telehealth. These companies are looking to be a part of the future of this expanding method of healthcare delivery.

In the last fiscal year, the VA provided more than 782,000 patients with telehealth services, and 13% of all Veterans getting care at the VA received these clinical services at some point.

The partnerships that the VA is developing with those companies will help us serve even more Veterans this way and give these companies a front-row seat as this revolution unfolds.

The goal of the Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships is simple: collaborate with companies that have a specific area of expertise that helps us innovate and deliver modern healthcare, through modern means, to Veterans. Our efforts on telehealth are a perfect example of how partnerships are changing Veterans’ lives. These efforts include:

  • When we needed to find a way to reach rural Veterans who live far away from VA healthcare centers, Walmart stepped in and donated space and technical support to host telehealth appointments right in their stores.
  • Philips agreed to equip 10 Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts with telehealth technology so Veterans can receive care locally and has plans to expand this service to 100 rural locations.
  • Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon pledged free VA Video Connect service to their Veteran customers, so that these telehealth appointments can be carried out without any data charges to those who wore the uniform.

Similar high-level commitments have been made by companies and organizations who are helping us treat Veterans who have been diagnosed with cancer. These commitments include:

  • Sanford Health and philanthropist Denny Sanford are providing free pharmacogenetics testing to some Veterans who are currently in VA care. The program, which focuses primarily on testing cancer survivors, will help healthcare providers determine which medications are most effective for patients, and its aim is to expand to 125 sites.
  • Bristol Meyers Squibb Foundation is funding 10 VA lung cancer screening centers for early disease detection.
  • IBM Watson donated 10,000 genomic studies, which will let the VA deploy artificial intelligence to help interpret cancer data, and customize treatment for Veterans.
  • The Prostate Cancer Foundation has committed $50 million to fund 11 VA Centers of Excellence that will deliver best-in-class prostate cancer care and support the innovative research of rising star VA investigators.

These are just the latest examples of how organizations around the country are working with the VA to help America’s heroes, and it doesn’t take millions of dollars to do so.

Groups like Fisher House Foundation have long worked with VA to build homes for families who need to be near their Veterans while they receive medical care.

But at the local level, law schools and law firms are donating their time by sending people to volunteer at VA hospitals to help those Veterans who might be struggling with legal problems.

And some people are making a difference on their own. Over the summer, it was reported that Rodney Smith, Jr. was touring all 50 states to mow lawns for Veterans.

Nowhere can the power of partnerships be seen more clearly than in the work being done all across this country to end Veteran homelessness. For several years now, the VA has helped coordinate state and local efforts to identify homeless heroes, and then house them. The VA and its many partners such as state and local officials, non-profits and private companies who are working more closely than ever to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring.

The Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness is a good example of that effort because the VA has worked with hundreds of mayors across the nation to coordinate a response to this problem.

These partnerships have been a success. Seventy-six communities and three states have effectively ended Veteran homelessness, and Minnesota looks like it might be our fourth state.

We’re optimistic that partnerships will help us reduce Veteran suicide as well. VA has launched the Mayors Challenge to Prevent Suicide in 24 cities, and is working with state officials, NGOs and others to get a handle on this national tragedy. President Trump took another big step this year by asking about half of his Cabinet to develop a national strategy to prevent suicide, and it calls for a whole-of-nation approach to making progress on this tough issue.

The VA just celebrated its hundredth year in its headquarters in Washington, a period of time marked by rapid growth of physical infrastructure and waves of hiring to care for Veterans returning home from World War I, World War II, Vietnam and other conflicts.

But it would not surprise me if the story of our next 100 years is a story of partnerships with the VA working outside its own walls with people and groups who share our goal of helping those who have borne the battle.

This op-ed by Sec. Robert Wilkie first appeared on the Washington Examiner.


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