This week marks two years since the former director of the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) was fired for mismanagement, after major instances of misconduct, fraud and abuse were exposed. It was an important action to take toward instilling accountability at the VA, but also the first step in the process of rebuilding a health care system that many veterans in Central and South Alabama depend on.
That process has been not been easy. Many obstacles have made the path to improving veterans’ care difficult. However, there is significant progress to report.
CAVHCS hospitals once ranked the worst in the country for delays in completing patient appointments. Today, the average wait time for completed appointments has been cut in half, from 16.29 days in April 2015 down to 8.54 last month. Much of the improvement can be can be attributed to the continued recruitment of key health care staff, from nurses and doctors to senior managers. I hope this momentum can continue, particularly in the area of mental health services, where a national shortage of professionals has made it difficult for VA to fill vacancies. I’m also eager to see continued improvement in the Choice program that allows veteran patients to access care via local community providers if they so choose.
After two years without a permanent director at CAVHCS, Dr. Linda Boyle has been selected to take the helm. Dr. Boyle is a retired Air Force Colonel who spent 24 years in the military, serving as the Medical Group Commander at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida before joining the VA. She has been working as the Interim Director at the Alaska VA Health System for the past year.
Dr. Boyle’s appointment is welcome news. The culture of any organization is set by leadership. I believe no single action is more important toward improving veterans’ healthcare in Central and South Alabama than having a permanent director in place who is committed to serving veterans and empowered to make the necessary changes. I look forward to meeting Dr. Boyle in person soon and I stand ready to help her be successful.
Last week, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed into law a bill funding the VA for the next fiscal year. The bill includes a nine percent increase over last year’s total funding to meet increased demand at the VA, with much of it directed toward the most pressing needs: suicide prevention, mental health care services, traumatic brain injury care, and eliminating veteran homelessness. Also, greater whistleblower protections were added and funding was included to ensure resources are available for the VA Inspector General (IG) to continue its important work, including within Central Alabama.
The statistics I see and the stories I hear from veteran constituents make me optimistic about the future at the Central Alabama VA. I will continue to press for improvements, doing my part to help build upon recent progress to make sure it is real and lasting.
Martha Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband, Riley and their two children.