Transforming the V.A. with Secretary Robert McDonald (Part 2 of 2)

"What we’re trying to do is make sure all the data is out there so the veteran can see the data and use that data to make an informed decision for themselves. "

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U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald discusses the transformation of the VA, customizing the experience for every single veteran and how VA technology, research and innovation benefits not only veterans, but all Americans.  Click here for part 1 of this interview.

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Interview recorded on October 21, 2016.  Read a transcript of this interview below.

Traynham: Mr. Secretary, also my understanding is that you have reduced the wait time. From my understanding, for mental health, it’s two days?

McDonald: About 2, 2 1/2 days.

Traynham: Primary care?

McDonald: Primary care about five days, specialty care about six days. Those are the national averages, and we’ve done that by adding more space. We’ve added over 4 million square feet of new space, new clinics. We’ve added new doctors, we’ve added new nurses, we’ve expanded clinic hours. We now have weekend hours. We’ve also created women’s clinics because we have a large growth in women veterans. We’ve improved our internal productivity, the number of hours — the number of things that get done in a fixed amount of time by our providers.

Traynham: The few moments that we have left, Mr. Secretary, I think the elephant in the room for a lot of people is, why don’t we just privatize the VA? Why don’t we just have veterans perhaps maybe have a voucher? My understanding is that was part of the testimony when you testified before Congress. Members of Congress said, “Shouldn’t we just privatize this and give the veteran a voucher so that he or she can go to any clinic or hospital of their choice?” Your response?

McDonald: Some senators asked me that when I went through the confirmation process, and as a former business leader, I thought it was important to study that. So I did study it. I actually wrote an op-ed that was carried in the paper in late 2014, and basically, my conclusion was not only do veterans need the VA, but American medicine needs the VA and the American people need the VA. We already talked the innovation aspect. We spend about $2 billion a year on research — $1.8 billion, to be exact — and that research informs American medicine. For example, we have the largest cohort of blood samples in the world — over 550,000 blood samples of veterans who have voluntarily given their blood sample, which we’re now genetically mapping those blood samples, and we’re connecting with the 20 to 30 years of medical history records that we have for those individuals. So we’re leading, in a good measure, the President’s Precision Medicine Project and the Vice President’s Cancer Moonshot project to find out the genetic causes of these diseases that affect Americans. That’s the kind of innovation that changes lives. The second leg of our stool is training. We train 70% of the doctors in the country. It’s a system Omar Bradley set up in 1946.

Traynham: And that’s a fact, Mr. Secretary, I’m not sure many people know — that 70% of all doctors in this country have some VA training.

McDonald: Well, I encourage people watching your program to ask their doctor where they trained, and they’ll tell you they trained in the VA and they loved doing it. They loved the customers, the veterans that they served, and they also loved the teaching aspect of our hospitals. I mean, if you choose a doctor, wouldn’t you like to have a doctor that had to teach what he’s practicing — he or she are practicing — because you learn it so well?

Traynham: Right. Well, that’s part of my last question. The GI Comparison Bill that you have — it’s a toolkit that you have on your website.

McDonald: That’s right.

Traynham: Walk us through what that specifically is.

McDonald: Well, the idea is, you know, there are a lot of diversity in university choices out there, in schooling choices for veterans. We want the veteran to make the right decision for themselves. We don’t dictate to them where they use their GI Bill. But there are some schools that have gone defunct. There’s some schools that have credits and they’re not transferrable. They have some schools with very — not adequate job occupations after they graduate. So what we’re trying to do is make sure all the data is out there so the veteran can see the data and use that data to make an informed decision for themselves.

Traynham: Secretary Robert McDonald, thank you very much for joining us.

McDonald: Thank you, Robert. It was great to be with you.

Traynham: And thank you for joining us for this edition of “Comcast Newsmakers.” I’m Robert Traynham. Have a great day. We’ll see you next time. Bye-bye.