A Salute to the VA For Its Excellence In Serving Those Who Served Our Nation

Veterans Day is almost here so, even as we celebrate our Veterans, it is timely to showcase the great work of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in meeting the President’s challenge to make government work better -- delivering more mission for the money.  It is especially timely because, on Wednesday, November 9, VA received the prestigious Palladium Balanced Scorecard Hall of Fame Award for Executing Strategy, putting it in the select company of the world’s best-managed public and private enterprises .

VA’s mission begins when a servicemember’s ends.  As Abraham Lincoln so memorably said in his second inaugural address, VA’s job is “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”  In practice, this broad mandate translates to providing veterans with medical care, a variety of benefits, and a final resting place of dignity that does justice to their service.

To deliver more mission for the money, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould are tapping into the power of well-framed goals to galvanize action across a large and complex organization.  They are using the Balanced Scorecard to communicate and cascade their organization’s top priority goals into clear expectations across the organization, and reinforcing the importance of these goals with frequent measurement of a suite of measures and challenging reviews of progress to find and fix delivery problems.

One goal VA has set, for example, is ending veterans homelessness by 2015.  The VA shares this goal with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  HUD provides housing to homeless veterans through a set-aside of the Section 8 housing program, while VA provides supportive services to help veterans acquire safe housing, needed medical treatment services, employment opportunities, and benefits assistance. Together, they have been bringing the numbers of homeless veterans steadily down.

VA’s attention to collecting a balanced set of measures led to a surprising discovery.   Despite its deep dedication to serving veterans, senior leaders did not regularly review measures of customer satisfaction, quality, and service.  Increased attention to customer service measures resulted in noteworthy improvements, including an increase in the percentage of medical care new patient appointments completed within 14 days of a patient’s desired date.  This hit 89 percent in 2011, up from 84 percent the previous year.

VA Medical Centers have also been recognized as leaders for quality of care.  A recent initiative to reduce hospital acquired infections was featured in articles by the Wall Street Journal and the Commonwealth Fund.  The VA enlisted leaders at the local, regional, and national level to help it identify and spread highly effective infection-reducing practices.  It mentored facilities with persistent sub-par performance.  And it employed a multidimensional report card with quarterly measures of ICU and acute care performance.  The payoff is clear– one type of infection rate, for example, saw greater than a three-fold reduction over five years. 

We’re proud of our veterans – and we’re proud of VA for how well it serves them.  We congratulate VA on its most recent of many well deserved awards for excellence.

Shelley Metzenbaum is Associate Director of Performance and Personnel Management

Your Federal Tax Receipt