Director of San Diego VA analyzes progress and problems for system

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — The secretary of veterans affairs in San Diego says the VA is still in critical condition but he’s committed to making improvements. 

In a follow up to secretary David Shulkin talking to reporters in Washington about the department’s problems, the director of VA healthcare in San Diego joined KUSI News to discuss what is being done to improve veteran affairs.

Health care for veterans hasn’t always been associated with quality and access.

Dr. Robert smith, the director of the VA health care system in San Diego says he’s working on ways to improve that.

After a series of damning reports about wait times for appointments and the quality of care, the VA vowed to institute a major overhaul in San Diego. The wait times for primary care are better than the national average, and about the same for specialty care and services for mental health. 

Overall, Dr. Smith says San Diego’s VA system has performed better than in other cities with lower mortality rates. In the VA’s most recent internal analysis San Diego’s rating was four stars out of five.

Despite this, Smith says there are plenty of areas for improvement. he agrees with VA secretary David Shulkin that veterans need more options if they want to see a private health care provider.

He also acknowledges that the VA needs more staff for mental health services. He blames some of that on the way the department hires its employees, a process often bogged down in red tape. 

On the positive side, Smith says the VA in San Diego is adopting more technology to increase efficiencies for everything from scheduling appointments to bringing doctors together with patients.

The VA in San Diego is also making a suicide prevention a top priority. The department recently adopted a program called "Reach a Vet" which helps VA staff identify the vets most at risk of suicide.

Veterans with complaints can call the National White House hotline at 855.948.2311. 

Categories: Local San Diego News