VA: Major restructuring will streamline services, set standard regional boundaries

By HEATH DRUZIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 26, 2015

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced a major restructuring effort Monday to streamline its often disjointed bureaucracy by standardizing service regions in the country and increasing coordination between them.

For years, the nine organizations within the department have divided the country into their own regions with little or no coordination. By June 30, VA aims to have the entire department under the same service boundaries through a program called MyVA, breaking the country into five regions.

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Officials said in a conference call with reporters that the move is a cornerstone of VA Secretary Bob McDonald’s push to overhaul the scandal-ridden organization. The VA does not have an estimate for how much the restructuring will cost, officials said, nor are there many details about what the changes will mean for veterans’ care.

“The overall transformation will take a while,” said Scott Blackburn, the Director of the MyVA Program Management Office. “There will be a lot of analysis and we’ll know a lot more of the answers over the next couple of months.”

The department has been undergoing changes since a national health-care scandal cost former Secretary Eric Shinseki his job, following revelations that patients languished for years on secret lists created to make wait times appear artificially short. Some veterans died while awaiting care.

In addition, the VA has been criticized for a backlog of hundreds of thousands of disability claims and a confusing bureaucracy that often frustrates veterans seeking care and compensation for service-connected injuries.

The hope is that MyVA will make it easier for veterans to interact with the department.

“Ultimately, this reform will improve the Veteran experience by enabling Veterans to more easily navigate VA and access their earned care and benefits,” McDonald said in a released statement.

One change, for example, allows call center agents to suspend or resume certain benefits payments without making veterans go through additional steps.

Officials said MyVA is the largest restructuring in the department’s history, though details on exactly what it will entail or how the changes will be made were not announced Monday.

In terms of employees, Veterans Affairs is the second-largest department in the federal government, after the Department of Defense. Bob Snyder, the executive director of the MyVA Program Management Office, said despite consolidation in some parts of the department, he does not anticipate job cuts.

“There is more than enough work to do across the VA,” he said. “This not about cutting jobs.”

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