Legion schedules SWS site visits

The American Legion’s System Worth Saving Task Force held a planning meeting Oct. 4-5 in Washington, D.C., to focus on its next round of site visits to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers. Task force members and Legion national staff will visit 15 VA facilities from November to April 2013, and will hold video teleconferences with VA staff at another 10 facilities. Through interviews with staff, patients and administrators, the Legion teams will evaluate the overall quality of health care with an emphasis on the treatment and care of women patients.

Since 2000, the number of women veterans enrolled in VA has more than doubled from 159,000 to 337,000. These numbers are expected to grow as more women serve in the armed forces and become eligible for VA benefits.

The task force and Legion staff worked together on developing a strategic plan and questionnaires, and selecting VA facilities to visit. They heard presentations on best practices for delivering medical care to women veterans, as well as the views of several local women veterans on health-care issues. Presenters included representatives from the White House, Senate, House of Representatives, VA’s Central Office and Veteran Integrated Service Network 5.

VA medical centers to be visited by SWS teams include those in Chicago; San Antonio; Buffalo, N.Y.; Togus, Maine; Fargo, N.D; Tampa, Fla; Dublin and Salem, Ga.; Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Coatesville, Pa.; Spokane, Wash.; St. Cloud; Minn.; Wilkes Barre, Pa.; Madison, Wis.; and Las Vegas. The Legion teams will meet with executive leadership of the facilities, women veterans program managers, enrollment/business office personnel, mental health staff, military sexual trauma coordinators, suicide prevention coordinators and women veterans health committees.

In focusing on the health-care needs of women veterans, the SWS task forces hopes to: 1) understand what perceptions and barriers prevent women veterans from enrolling in VA; 2) determine what quality-of-care challenges women veterans face, and 3) provide recommendations on what steps VA can take to alleviate such barriers and challenges. A final SWS report with findings and recommendations will be distributed next August at The American Legion’s national convention in Houston.

In conjunction with the site visits, SWS task force members will also hold town hall meetings for local veterans, giving them a chance to discuss their experiences with VA health care in an open forum. Letters of invitation to the site visits and town hall meetings will be extended to American Legion department commanders, adjutants, members of the National Executive Committee and Past National Commanders. State and local leaders of The American Legion are encouraged to attend these activities and share their insight.

American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz has appointed the following SWS Task Force members for 2012: Chairman Ralph Bozella of Colorado; Vice Chairman R. Michael Suter of New York; Past National Commander Ronald F. Conley of Pennsylvania; Past National Commander Paul A. Morin of Massachusetts; Tom Mullon of Minnesota; Vickie Smith-Dikes of Georgia; and Patrick Rourk of New York.

For more information about the upcoming SWS site visits and town hall meetings, and their focus on health care for women veterans, contact Jacob Gadd, the Legion’s deputy director for health care: (202) 861-2700 or jgadd@legion.org.