The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has heralded its work ahead of Veterans Day on Thursday with what it said were “all-time” accomplishments.
It highlighted 27 efforts ranging from updating veterans’ medical records to improving mental health and suicide prevention efforts.
But while the VA touted its accomplishments, veterans and advocates continue to express concern over these and other challenges facing the veteran’s community, from long wait times at medical facilities to the lack of housing.
At a press event, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said that the department had made “historic progress” during the past year and he praised the “extraordinary work” of its staff.
“The men and women who work at the VA know that no matter the challenge, America’s veterans will come back from deployment and receive the care they earned in service to our nation. We will never rest until that effort is complete,” Wilkie said.
The VA has added staff and improved access to services since the launch of a major reform effort following the 2014 Veterans Affairs wait crisis, where veterans faced long waiting times for medical care.
But challenges remain, from inadequate staffing at facilities to inadequate care for mental health and other problems.
Recent reports have shown that wait times at VA facilities remain too long and some 67,000 veterans are waiting for mental health care.
Also, veterans continue to face issues related to homelessness and housing. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, on a given night there are an estimated 40,000 homeless veterans in the US.
The VA has said that it is committed to helping address veteran homelessness, and its efforts have had successes. But advocates say that more still needs to be done.
Veterans also face difficulties related to access to benefits, including disability payments. The VA has made strides in recent years, such as offering new services to help veterans file benefits claims, but veterans and advocates have said that the process is too slow and complicated.
The VA has also been criticized for not doing enough to address veteran health issues, including the high levels of suicide among veterans. Although the VA has focused on improving access to mental health care, programs, and research, veterans have said that more still needs to be done.
Despite the challenges facing the veteran community, Wilkie said that the VA had made “unprecedented progress” in recent years. He noted that in the last year, the VA had achieved record numbers in just about every measurable area, including patient enrollment, treatment received, claims filed, and appeals resolved.
As Veterans Day approaches, advocates and veterans hope that the VA can continue to make progress and that the needs of the veteran community continue to be addressed.