Hey, in the last couple years or so, the Department of Veterans Affairs has accomplished at lot. It’s time for people of good will to give them credit. (Few others have, which kinda pisses me off.)

What we’re talking about is for-real cultural change, which is really required pretty much everywhere, now or not too far off.

This is a only the brief version, which doesn’t do any of it justice.

Employee innovation. In pretty much all organizations, the front line workers know a lot that never gets to the big decision makers, and that includes how to run things better. However, the VA has run innovation contests, which have already resulted in better customer service for veterans. For example, the need for some redundant doctor visits has been eliminated.

Employee interaction with customers. VA workers believe in what they’re doing, and can now engage with veterans via social media. They know how to do stuff, and this can mean far more of ’em helping their customers. Sure, this means that they might say the wrong thing, which is true of employees everywhere (I’ve done it, especially during my IBM days). It also makes public affairs offers (PR) nervous, but it gets the job done a lot better.

Blue Button. It’s one of the Administration’s real wins in health care, truly interagency, and now available in lots of places outside government.  With Blue Button, a vet (or service member) can download health records, and soon  job skills, in a useful form. The private sector is adopting Blue Button and that changes a lot in health care. (I just had to fill out two forms with data that my primary doctor already has.) (Complicated root canal deal, okay now.)

Vendor innovation. Vendors, particularly in health care, have lots of good ideas they’re doing, like getting medical instruments to talk to the Blue Button stuff. Consider that blood pressure or other heart measuring tools can be connected wirelessly to a smart phone, which can update Blue Button records.

Tablets, like iPads. Anyone who uses a tablet can see that they’d be great in the hands of a nurse, doctor, or other medical professional as they make their rounds. The VA is starting to try tablets out. For that matter, a wounded warrior, stuck in a bed for a long time, can use a tablet to stay in touch with family, look for jobs, and play games.

Open source. VA health records systems, VistA, is a model for the health industry, maybe the best system around. Making it open source, and getting it to the osehra.org repository, can help get the benefits of open source, which can include real innovation, improved reliability and security, and lower cost.

Big outreach to vets using social media. VA’s social media team is doing great things, among them, doing outreach using multiple platforms. Of particular interest is VA’s blog VAntage Point and the entire set of fan pages for VA medical centers across the country.

Craig Newmark is the founder of the internet site Craigslist.

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Published on Nov. 9, 2011

Estimated reading time is 2.6 min.

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  1. Blake November 17, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    The VA also offers substance abuse services for those that have resorted to drugs, the VA has not turned its back on you.

  2. Blake November 17, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    ummm, I have never heard of a veteran getting a drug test before being awarded disability, nor have I enquired about the matter, however I cant say I feel it would be appropriate either, I am speaking of compensation, not education or voc rehab, which you will be tested for drugs before being awarded. But compensation? Ok sir, you lost both legs and got a brain injury in iraq, so youre at 100%, but you tested positive for marijuana on a UA so no back pay, no med care, no compensation, and you are denied your benefits? That doesn’t seem likely or humane or reasonable or real to me, does anyone have factual insight on the matter?

  3. John K November 17, 2011 at 1:57 pm


  4. Ricardo Epps November 17, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Craig & David,

    You guy are oblivious to the reality of what many veterans are dealing with concerning VA system.
    I am a US Army Gulf War Vet, and have numerous problems after nearly 17 years of service. After getting into the VA healthcare system 8 years ago, and submitting a claim for service connected illnesses and injuries, my claims have all been denied. I have been waiting for my appeal hearing for almost three years now. I have read similar stories, time and time again from other vets. It seems the VA system is designed to reduce the number of claims they would be required to pay out, by stalling the process with the knowledge that many o fus will either give up, resort to drugs/alcohol, or die. After all, it’s a numbers game right?

    • Charles T. Cauthen November 17, 2011 at 11:59 pm

      Ricardo, it is a numbers game, when your numbers up, game over!

  5. David L Shelton November 11, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    Hello Mr Newmark, I hope you are well. Thank you for your attitude towards the VA’s positive changes. Especially in the veterans healthcare system. I have been a long time recipiant of the VAMC health benefits. I can actually say the VA has saved my life more than just once over the last 35 or so years. I have seen and been first hand witness to a 180 degree customer service positive turn about. The effect a housekeeping employee can have on a patient in the hospital can be the difference between feeling alone and afraid before surgery is just as beneficial as the hardworking social worker staff. There are no such thing as just a job at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center any more. To say for myself since being appointed a position in the Health Information Management Service for the last 15 years, it is truely a passion and a huge part of who I am and what I stand for. I have the honor of serving my fellow veterans daily. Most of all employees at the Indianapolis Richard L Roudebush VAMC believe in the mission of customer service above and beyond the position description of any one of them. The passion in taking great care of our nation’s Veterans. As Abraham Lincoln said; To Care for those who bore the battle! Pride in a job well done cannot be bought or sold, but yet it’s value is more than money, it is a start of a positive social change. Happy birthday to my fellow Marines! Happy veterans day to all my fellow veterans and their families! Thank you. David

  6. Mick Hall November 9, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Very informative and welcome info. I just hope the gov. money doesn’t dry up before I do.. Not enough Drs. currently “in Sheridan,Wy”. The VA hosp. in Sheridan is top of the line in nearly every aspect of vet-care. The entire staff is first class. 2 cents worth? Required?

  7. James Byrd November 9, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Yes they are inproving

  8. DW Yerkes November 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    Too bad you have to revert to gutter phrases to make your point. I’m sure the innovations the stellar tech people made have made a difference in our lives. Maybe before hitting send you should read your message to ensure you get the message sent you want everyone to acknowlege you for in the best possible light.

  9. Jim S November 9, 2011 at 11:41 am

    And done while the People Still haven’t Demanded their own Sacrifice, now past a decade added to the previous decade, just think how much could have been done even before these two wars but especially since, as well as the money saved because we would have had the VA we should have and the countries responsibility to ensure that!
    Will say though, along with the 110th congress and 111th what they finally did that wasn’t in the two previous, help came to the VA with the some $1.8billion in Recovery Funds and used wisely by the present administration of, for the many new issues as well as long time issues. Which frankly still makes many royally mad as to anything related to those recovery funds, or the ‘stimulus’, because of so called political? ideologies? which aren’t!!!!

  10. Charles T. Cauthen November 9, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Blog moderation; to censor and control the desired end product or service for the good of the intended purpose. An illusion to create wealth for the controllers.
    Craig, if 70% of your customers got the shaft, you’d be out of business. There are far too many veterans getting abuse and mistreatment to cover up. I agree the VA is doing a lot these days. More for corporate America, not necessarily for the health and quality of life for wounded and service connected vets. Money that should be going to needful, honest, deserving, promised benefits to veterans is going to corporate America. Would you wait 2-6 yrs for your pay ? If I pissed you off, good, I’m pissed off too. I am a combat veteran and I have bought from your site, no complaints. You’re defending some good people, they product doesn’t work as intented.

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