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Reasons & Remarks Redivivus - Looking to 2017

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News January 2017

Reflecting on the status of PN

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This is the beginning of a new year for PN magazine. Each year about this time, I pause to reflect on the status of things that are important to us as paralyzed veterans.

That reflection considers significant events that have occurred the preceding year that will carry into the coming year. It also gives me pause to think of the two or three things that will impact us in this new year.  

This year, it didn’t take long for me to arrive at what I consider the most important events that occurred the preceding year.  Both of them deal with the issue of leadership. Two important people in the world of paralyzed veterans are no longer in the posts they used to have.

What’s common about both of them is that paralyzed veterans who use the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system aren’t familiar with their names. Yet, they were impacted significantly by the decisions they made and the work they did. 

The first person is late Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Executive Director Homer S. Towsend Jr. I first met Homer in the early 1970s. He served PVA in a variety of positions, most of them on the national level. When Homer died early last year, he was serving as PVA’s executive director. Homer left large shoes to fill and a record of accomplishments that have served PVA well over a period of more than a quarter of a century. He was a remarkable man.

The next person is Sophia Chun, MD.  Sophia was chief of the Spinal Cord Injury and Disease Health Care Group at the VA Long Beach Healthcare System in California. She implemented revolutionary new procedures to a spinal-cord injury (SCI) service that needed new leadership when she took the position. Sophia rose to become executive director for the VA’s 24 SCI service centers.

Sophia is no longer with the VA. It’s unfortunate she no longer serves. She could have energized a specialized field to where it received worldwide recognition.

When I consider what will impact us as paralyzed veterans this year, the choices are easily determined. If I limit the selection to two things, the fact that we will have a new president makes the choices obvious to me.

The first is who will be the secretary of the VA. Since the secretary is a presidential Cabinet position, current VA Secretary Robert McDonald may be replaced by one appointed by President Donald Trump.

McDonald has worked hard to implement change in the VA. However, one thing that has happened historically is that when a new secretary takes over, he implements a new way of operating. That has happened in the past, and I expect it to happen in the future. We can expect change within the VA. What that change will be is anyone’s guess.

The second thing that will impact us is the way the VA Choice Program operates.  With the significant events that occurred in the VA resulting in veterans’ deaths, Congress mandated the VA to employ a program that would eliminate the backlog of veterans waiting for care.

The VA arrived at a program most often referred to as the Choice Program. It permits veterans to choose the VA or use a community provider for health care. The way the program operates is different in each of the geographical areas that make up the 23 Veterans Integrated Service Networks. If you think that’s confusing, the Choice Program is, too.

The intent of the Choice Program is good. However, there are problems with its functionality. In the city that I live close to, the hospital and physicians won’t accept VA Choice patients because of the paperwork involved in payment and the length of time it takes to get compensated for caring for a patient who’s a veteran.

So, there you have it. The past we know, and we will miss two fine people we’ve lost. The future we can speculate about and hope that it turns out better for veterans’ health care needs. Optimistically, this time next year we can look back and be pleased.

The best of the new year to you all.     

 

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Reasons & Remarks Redivivus - Looking to 2017

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