Regional VA looks to "gain open and honest...

Posted at 5:49 PM, Apr 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-03 18:49:16-04

Ever since a Veterans Affairs internal investigation revealed negligence in the treatment of veterans in 2014, officials have held town hall meetings to “gain open and honest feedback” from patients.

Officials with the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System say management is focusing on one thing.

“We have one mission and one mission only and that's to serve our veterans. Without that, we have no reason to exist,” says Will Ackerman, director of communications and voluntary service with the regional network.

Robert McDonald, current secretary of veterans affairs, developed the concept when he took over in 2014 after Eric Shinseki resigned amid allegations of hospital staff falsifying wait times for patients – sometimes resulting in deaths due to the long periods in between care.

Since the scandal, managements at VA medical centers nationwide are looking to improve its services by listening to its patients.

To honor that commitment, McDonald asked hospitals to host at least one quarterly town hall meeting.

But the regional health care system is taking it a step further.

“The town halls are intended to be a way for us to openly communicate with our veterans,” Ackerman says. “What our director [B. Don Burman] decided was that he felt it was important to do it more frequently. So, we try to do them at least monthly.”

The town halls are spread throughout the network which includes Nebraska, western Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.

According to Ackerman, nearly 55,000 veterans are enrolled in the network with over 100,000 veterans in its market area.

Air Force veteran Dick Harrington is a volunteer on the Veterans Advisory Board at the Omaha hospital.

He says in addition to providing quality care – especially for younger vets – the hospital is seeing a growing demographic.

 “There's a lot more women veterans using this hospital now. I mean just in the last 6 years I've been here,” Harrington says. “That's a concern.”

Harrington says an outline is in the works for a women's clinic.   

For hospital officials, the town halls provide healing to a sometimes fractured system.

“We realize we're not perfect as any health care system isn't going to be,” says Ackerman. “We strive to be the best, provide the best high quality service to our veterans because they earned it.”

The next town hall meeting is at 6 p.m. on Apr. 4 at the at the Fraternal Order of the Eagles Club, 200 E. Washington Ave., Red Oak, Iowa.