Improved VA care at top of list of organizational priorities


Vice President Joe Biden addresses the crowd at
the 2014 VFW National Convention in St. Louis.

VFW Commander-in-Chief John W. Stroud
delivers his acceptance speech.

The 115th VFW National Convention was held July 19-23, 2014, at the America’s Center in downtown St. Louis. More than 10,000 VFW and Ladies Auxiliary members were in attendance.

Air Force veteran John W. Stroud was elected the new VFW Commander-in-Chief. Also elected were John A. Biedrzycki as Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief and Brian J. Duffy as Junior Vice Commander-in-Chief.

During his acceptance speech, Stroud addressed the VA's missteps. "The VA is a health care system worth saving that right now must identify and fix what’s broken … that needs to hold people appropriately accountable to the fullest extent of the law … and a system that must restore the faith of veterans in their VA."

Delegates to the convention were addressed by several political figures, including Vice President Joe Biden, acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, Governor Jay Nixon (D-MO), and Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Roy Blunt (R-MO).

Vice President Joe Biden outlined a five-point strategy to help Iraq defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and discussed the plan to help Afghanistan transition to a democratic state as we continue to bring more troops home in the coming year. Biden also commented on the current VA crisis saying, “We will not rest until it is fixed. There is only one sacred obligation—to care for veterans and their families.”

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson took to the podium to assure delegates that much is being done to fix the errors and scandals that have rocked the VA in recent months. “VA is in the midst of the most serious crisis in more than a generation,” said Gibson. “But the VA has before it perhaps the greatest opportunity to enhance the care of veterans in its history.” Gibson urged attendees to unite to seize this opportunity by focusing on three problem areas: business (scheduling), leadership (misuse of metrics and lack of accountability), and resources (lack of space, technology and qualified staff).

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) spoke of her efforts—over the past four years—to gather information about patient experience in VA facilities. She has already surveyed 9,000 veterans. McCaskill also called attention to a bill she introduced, S. 2606, that would allow for the firing of VA employees who retaliate against whistleblowers. She then shared her plan to restructure the agencies in charge of POW/MIA searches, recoveries and identifications.

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) highlighted the need for health care for military retirees and their families by introducing the Caring for America’s Heroes Act, S. 2276, which would improve access to mental health care under Tricare. Blunt called the VA crisis “shameful … a breach of faith … and unacceptable,” and backed private care as a viable option: “Competition might not be a bad thing. It would offer more flexibility and more choices.”

Governor Jay Nixon (D-MO) shared Missouri’s success with the Show-Me Heroes employment program, which includes more than 4,000 employers and has helped 6,700 veterans find jobs.

Also, at this year's convention, Former U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker received the VFW’s Eisenhower Award. Tom Clark, a teacher from Indiana, received the VFW’s Americanism Award for creating the Gold Star Honor Project. Ladies Auxiliary VFW President Armithea “Sissy” Borel was awarded the Commander-in-Chief Gold Medal of Merit. U.S. Navy hospital corpsmen received the VFW’s Armed Forces Award, and Stars & Stripes received the VFW’s News Media Award. The Fred C. Hall Memorial Outstanding Post Special Project Award went to Post 4819 in West, Texas, for its efforts to care for the survivors of a deadly industrial accident there on April 17, 2013.

Click here for more information and highlights on the 115th VFW National Convention.

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