Friday's resignation by Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is only the first of many steps the beleaguered agency must take to fix its treatment of America's military, bolster its tattered reputation, and attract the talented professionals it needs for the future.
The department -- which has about 312,481 full-time employees and a 2014 budget of $153.8 billion -- is bulky and well funded. Neither understaffing nor money lies behind its failures. Instead, culture, a dearth of checks and balances, and a history of unpunished transgressions helped create a department that allowed wait times to last for months or erase veterans from lists entirely, according to published reports. Forty members of the Armed Forces, who waited for 21 months to get care at a VA hospital, may have died as a result of this negligence, a whistleblower charged. As more employees come forward, media and government officials are turning their attention to previously published reports by departments such as the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which in March 2013 found "inconsistent implementation of certain elements of [Veteran's Health Administration's] scheduling policy that impedes VHA from scheduling timely medical appointments."
At that time, the GAO determined the VA was implementing various technologies to improve wait times and service. In light of recent revelations, it's imperative for the VA to use these tools as part of its major overhaul. These are only tools, of course. The VA itself requires much more than technology to once again become worthy of veterans' trust. But by installing technologies for transparency, communication, and visibility, the VA can demonstrate it is moving in the right direction.
The VA must open up the toolbox and use everything -- from technology to training, from staff changes to new oversight -- to try and regain the trust it lost. When you exist only to serve the men and women who pledged their lives to save this nation (and then let them down time after time), you're lucky to have another chance to atone.
Has meeting regulatory requirements gone from high priority to the only priority for healthcare IT? Read Health IT Priorities: No Breathing Room, an InformationWeek Healthcare digital issue.Alison Diana is an experienced technology, business and broadband editor and reporter. She has covered topics from artificial intelligence and smart homes to satellites and fiber optic cable, diversity and bullying in the workplace to measuring ROI and customer experience. An ... View Full Bio