DAV Washington Headquarters Executive Director Garry Augustine, alongside representatives from other veterans service organizations, joined medical experts and leading academics to explore the future of veterans’ health care and how the VA can continue to improve access and quality of care. They congregated in Washington for “Keeping the Promise: Summit on VA Health Care.”

The conference, co-hosted by the Roosevelt Institute and the Union Veterans Council, shared the perspectives of leading veterans’ care experts to discuss causes of the 2014 waitlist scandal, challenges and opportunities for veterans using the system, innovative treatments emerging from the system, and the potentially devastating impact of proposals that would dismantle the VA health care system and force veterans to seek care on their own. Panelists also discussed VA’s role in training doctors, researchers, and other health care providers and delved into some of the lesser-known services the VA provides to veterans and our communities, such as telehealth services, legal services for veterans, and disaster responses that provide services to the general public.

“One of the areas that is so important to our mission at VA that people don’t think a lot about is our responsibility for emergency preparedness,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin. “Within hours after the tragedy in Orlando, we dispatched our mobile med centers immediately on-site. Since then our VA clinicians, our mental health professionals have counseled over 800 family members of people who suffered in that tragedy.”

For VSOs such as DAV, eliminating the VA health care network members rely on amounts to breaking the nation’s promise to those who have borne the battle.

“We’re not opposed to choice. But don’t give someone a card and say ‘Here, thanks for your service. Good luck,” said Augustine. “I talked to an adviser to a presidential candidate who told me I’m the first veteran he’s heard from that had anything good to say about the VA. That made me realize…the perception war is being lost.”

Augustine said he urged that adviser to be open to “a different perspective than what they are hearing in the news or from certain organizations that may have a political agenda. I’ve got to tell you, I’m not sure I won that discussion,” he said.

Augustine and the other panelists emphasized the importance of looking at the objective facts of how well the VA is delivering care for veterans, and resisting the impulse to let fleeting headlines define an entire system.