In today’s difficult economic climate, the Obama administration and congressional leaders are searching for ways to make the government more affordable and efficient. The nation’s fiscal state demands that we examine our services and make important choices.
Decision makers would do well to study the health care delivery system of the Department of Veterans Affairs. To meet the challenges of the nation’s largest integrated health system, VA has developed strategic public-private partnerships that are crucial to its mission.
These relationships, using sophisticated information technology and supply-management systems, allow VA to drive innovation throughout its health care system. This has made VA more productive and better equipped to deliver the highest level of care to a group our nation has always honored: men and women who have served and sacrificed for our freedom.
Indeed, one thing that distinguishes America is its sense of responsibility to those who have served in uniform. We believe strongly in standing up for those who stood for us. Our promises to them are important, and we understand they bear a strong relationship to our freedom. These obligations are met through both public and private institutions that have professionals who understand values that make our country strong.
I am a product of both the Army’s and VA’s health care systems. They had a profound effect on my life — and the lives of millions of others. I know these organizations and their people well.
While neither system is perfect, those working in the Department of Defense and VA systems are talented, creative people who dedicate their lives to delivering the best care and services.
Private partners, such as The Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio, Texas, a state-of-the-art facility linked to Brooke Army Medical Center and funded privately by more than 600,000 donors, inspire our wounded warriors while offering expert physical rehabilitation.
Fisher House Foundation is another partner. It provides free housing near DoD and VA medical facilities to injured service members’ families so they can be close to their loved ones and participate in their recovery.
Most recently, VA has joined with the Paralympics to use sports as a platform for healing. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines can now train and compete as world-class athletes.
Seventy-five years ago, at age 12, I worked at Dawson’s Drugstore in my hometown of Russell, Kan. I can still hear the creaking of the pine floors, see the smiles around the soda fountain and remember the medicinal smells of the pharmaceutical products. Behind the counter were hundreds of bottles containing compounds, many supplied by a company named McKesson, now VA’s partner in managing its award-winning mail-order centers that deliver pharmaceuticals to all VA medical facilities using technologies none of us could have imagined then.
VA is now considered 10 years to 15 years ahead of the private health care system when it comes to technology. Its success has largely been because of its commitment to innovation. This model for government action is possible because of its unique purpose, as well as its successful public-private collaboration. These efficiencies are significant for patients and taxpayers.
One reason our nation is resilient and strong is that we understand, in our finest public and private institutions, the values and commitments that make an enduring legacy. While our nation faces great economic challenges, our spirit is forged in the abiding desire to press the limits of discovery and persist through the greatest difficulties.
The contributions of private initiatives and ingenuity — and our nation’s ability to apply them to government functions — have been a vital component to fulfilling America’s solemn obligations. It is certainly true of the high quality of care delivered to our veterans.
Policy leaders looking for examples of proven efficiencies that can stretch the dollar can learn from VA.
Bob Dole, a member of the 10th Mountain Division during World War II, is a former Senate majority leader and the 1996 Republican nominee for president. He is now special counsel at Alston & Bird LLP, which represents McKesson.
Click here to access Senator Dole's original comments.