VA Notes Major Demographic, Technological Trends in Strategic Document

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Future Veterans Will Have Different Expectations, Needs

By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON — The VA is facing a tide of demographic and technological changes that will affect the way it will provide care in the next decades.

While today’s 22 million veterans are predomately male and white with the largest cohort having served during the Vietnam War, according to the VA’s recently-released 2014-2020 strategic plan, those demographics will change over time. Within 30 years, as Gulf War veterans overtake Vietnam veterans as the biggest group, women will be nearly 20% of the veteran population and 35% of all veterans will be nonwhite.

Seventh Infantry Division soldiers participate in the Sisters in Arms event at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, earlier this year. The event was a forum to educate, train and mentor female soldiers on issues that are unique to them. Women are expected to make up nearly 20% of the military over the next decades. Photo by Army Capt. Tania Donovan, 17th Fires Brigade Public Affairs

Seventh Infantry Division soldiers participate in the Sisters in Arms event at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, earlier this year. The event was a forum to educate, train and mentor female soldiers on issues that are unique to them. Women are expected to make up nearly 20% of the military over the next decades. Photo by Army Capt. Tania Donovan, 17th Fires Brigade Public Affairs

Those are just some of the changes anticipated by VA and outlined in a new report, Department of Veterans Affairs Strategic Plan for FY 2014-2020, which cites the agency’s strategic goals moving forward.

“We conducted environmental scans and created a set of alternate future scenarios to describe a range of future environments, challenges and opportunities the department may confront 20 years from now,” the plan stated.

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The report cited “a noticeable trend” for higher growth in the veterans’ population in the South and West. The report also pointed out that the age distribution of veterans is expected to remain stable, over time, with the largest segment being over 65 years old. That trend also includes women; the largest segment now is in the 30-49 age range but that will shift to 65 and older over the next decades.

“Increases in the diversity of the veteran population will result in the need for more diverse services, outreach, communications, and research and development,” according to the report. “Utilization of services and benefits is unique to the individual, but on average increases with age. The sustained percentage of veterans over the age of 65 and the increasing percentage of women veterans over the age of 65 means geriatric care will continue to be a significant portion of VA’s health care.”

Likewise, communication preferences of veterans also are changing rapidly, the report noted, adding, “Veterans and eligible beneficiaries increasingly expect to receive VA communications via the Internet and on mobile devices. VA must embrace and fully support changing mobile lifestyles and personalize that interaction to veteran needs at that time and place.”

VA also stated that, while TBI and PTSD have been considered as the signature wounds of OEF/OIF/OND, mental and behavioral health issues are expected to continue as a result of serving in those conflicts. The report also included a somber warning about future U.S. military engagements: “Nervous or respiratory system ailments are expected to rise as a result of increased exposure to chemical and biological weapons, and other hazardous materials.”

Moving Forward

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Keeping these long-term trends in mind, VA said it has three high-level strategic goals moving forward:

  • Empower veterans to improve their well-being;
  • Enhance and develop trusted partnerships; and,
  • Manage and improve VA operations to deliver seamless and integrated support.

In addition, the plan incorporates its VA’s FY2014-2015 agency priority goals of increasing access to VA benefits and services; reducing and ultimately eliminating the disability claims backlog in 2015; and ending the rescue phase of veteran homelessness, also in 2015, the agency said.

“While we have accomplished much over the last 5 years, there is more to be done,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki wrote.

To accomplish its strategic goals, VA said it will need to:

  • Expand and refine research into the long-term consequences of TBI and PTSD in coordination with DoD;
  • Continue to expand implementation of patient aligned care teams (PACT);
  • Streamline its virtual presence (websites, portals and call centers), reducing duplication and enhancing personalization;
  • Continue to partner with DoD and increase the information and self-service capabilities available through the eBenefits portal;
  • Develop and implement strategies to support “bring your own device” and “use your own device” to support the increasingly mobile workforces and veteran population; and,
  • Improve patient-facing and clinician-facing e-health systems by expanding the development and use of health-related virtual modalities.

The claims backlog, an issue that has taken on increasing importance among lawmakers and advocacy groups, also was addressed in the document. The plan stated that, beyond its 2015 goal to eliminate the claims backlog, it will “implement a robust plan, and revisit procedures to ensure claims are addressed in no more than 125 days with at least 98% accuracy.”

“The plan includes redesigning policies and procedures, continuing to enhance training for claims processors, and utilizing the most advanced IT. We will also increase the use of video teleconference hearings to address claims appeals,” according to the report.

VA explained that its strategic plan for FY 2014-2020 builds on its prior FY 2011-2015 strategic plan and that the new plan “places a stronger emphasis on defining success by veteran outcomes; enhancing the quality of and access to benefits and services through integration within VA and with our partners; and developing our workforce with the skills, tools, and leadership to meet our clients’ needs and expectations.”

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