Fixing the VA: What a Disney Approach Could Do

Drastic measures need to be taken with the VA, and the Disney Way may be the best approach.

Beyond the comical mouse & friends, lies the pinnacle of business acumen. Individuals and companies spend big bucks each year to learn the secrets of Disney customer service, management, logistics, maintenance and more at Disney Institute, aka, Disney University.

SaluteMickey

Everything about the Disney Company is special, and successful. Of course, it’s all about the people, but then there’s the rub, isn’t it? The people make Disney special as much as the methods do.

I remember my father telling me repeatedly, as we frequently stopped a project to head to Sears for yet another Craftsman tool, “Right tool for the right job.”

One could easily say the same about people, or more specifically, employees. I say, “Right person, right job saves time and money.”

Disney invests in the person. Disney invests training, health care, benefits, frequent raises and vertical movement. Disney means quality. Disney means care. Disney means success.

What part of this does the Veterans Administration not need?

Exactly, they need all of it and more, fast.

Sending VA executives, managers, health care professionals, technicians, clerical and volunteers to Disney Institute may seem unnecessary and overkill, but why shouldn’t our veterans receive five star treatment and customer service? Remember, it’s about people.

Disney could help in other ways as well. The whole VA experience could be Disneyfied, from automated appointment making, to streamlined pharmacy operations; smartbands and housekeeping, parking, cuisine and yes, even entertainment. If the point is to get the veteran to the VA, then why not make it into a place that they want to be?

Short of having Disney characters in costumes at VA hospitals, Disney could infuse a little magic into the experience with state-of-the-art technology, from entertainment opportunities, moving walkways, fresh fruit and vegetable kiosks, petting places (where small mammals could be handled by vets for stress reduction), fitness centers, fitness pools, Jacuzzi’s, spa’s, bowling alleys, movie theaters, restaurants and coffee joints. OK, and maybe a meet & greet here and there?

Too frivolous, you say? Too expensive? How about the honorable veteran who wrote you a blank check for everything up to and including his or her life so that you can stay at home with your family and maybe take a trip to Disney World while he or she was out in the damn boonies getting their arses shot off?

Now whistle Dixie!

How do you infuse a quick fix while we rotate VA staff through Disney University? You activate medical National Guard and Reserve troops. Most medical personnel in the military are Guard and Reserve personnel. These part-time warriors are full time civilian health care professionals and workers, and could easily assimilate into the world of the VA medical system.

In fact, years ago, when I was serving with a US Army Hospital Reserve unit, we worked our drill weekends in the local VA hospital, and sometimes at the local state university hospital. Like fish in water, these reservists would fit right in. One big military family.

National Guard and Reserves typically do one weekend of service each month and then two weeks of training in the summer to meet minimum participation requirements. Why can’t this service be done in VA hospitals and medical facilities?

When I was hired by Disney back in the mid 1980’s for my dream job as a Davy Crockett Canoe ride attraction host, I went through Disney University (orientation). I will never forget the speech we got after watching the Disney Story in a small screening room. The lights came up and the trainer said, “So, what product does Disney sell?” Silence. “We sell happiness!” came the answer. “How do we sell happiness? By treating each person who walks through the front gates as if they were a guest in your own home.”

That was it. That was the secret to the Disney Way.

So, what’s so wrong with giving vets a little something they really deserve? A little happiness along with their health care. Vets have already paid for their E ticket, park hopper and annual pass; what’s left is a little TLC.

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The Best Way to Honor Those Who Never Came Home: Take Care of Those Who Did

Michelle Obama, in her Open Letter to Veterans, published on Sept. 30, 2013, says, “If you are a veteran who is uninsured and hasn’t applied for [Veteran’s Administration] coverage, you may be eligible for [Obama] care through the VA.”

Yet the VA states if you have non-service related ailments or injuries, you don’t qualify for free coverage with the VA, fees and co-pays would apply.

The HealthCare.gov website Mrs. Obama recommends veterans go to stipulates that veterans who are enrolled in the VA system are considered “covered” and therefore do not qualify for care under the new health care law. Similarly, veterans who may be enrolled in Tri-Care, the military health care system, do not qualify to use the new Health Insurance Marketplace.

It’s no secret that “there are an estimated 1.3 million uninsured veterans,” according to Mrs. Obama’s letter. What may be a secret are the estimated 400,000 veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – a leading cause of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can lead to social, physical, mental and emotional health complications, including suicide – which claims the lives of 22 veterans every day based on the VA’s own data reported by 21 states from 1999 through 2011. That’s one veteran every 65 minutes.

Mrs. Obama doesn’t even mention these two devastating conditions for veterans, their families and loved ones. The VA backlog and ill-equipped and trained VA service providers barely make a dent in helping those afflicted with TBI and PTSD.

What is the best way to honor our fallen heroes?

“Take care of those who came home,” is the answer given by Dr. Chrisanne Gordon, founder and chairwoman of the Resurrecting Lives Foundation and physical and rehabilitation physician. Who could disagree with making sure veterans, our most noble of citizens, who write a blank check to every man, woman and child in America for everything up to and including their lives, are cared for when they make it home alive?

Dr. Gordon, on her website, states that, “It is estimated that only 36 percent of the veterans returning from the Iraq & Afghanistan wars actually receive treatment through the Veterans Administration, although all are eligible.”

That’s only 792,000 out of 2.2 million returning veterans.

How will the Affordable Care Act provide relief for veterans if the VA can’t do it? How can Obamacare hope to even scratch the surface of treating ailments the government already can’t get out of its own way on?

The HealthCare.gov website claims that if a veteran can’t afford private health care coverage they “may be eligible for Medicaid.” The website also says that “if you’re a veteran who isn’t enrolled in VA benefits or other veteran’s health coverage, you can get coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace.”

But is the Marketplace ready for these special needs patients? And if they are, can the veteran not enrolled in VA health care afford it?

“Getting coverage,” means “paying” for coverage through the Obama Care Marketplace. Why would a veteran, who qualifies for VA coverage, not go to the VA? It doesn’t make sense.

It’s as if Michelle Obama is trying to get “caring for veterans” points with a health care merry-go-round that will deposit the veteran exactly where s/he got on!

Veterans need to be directed to the VA, and then some need to have their hands held to even get them to sign up. Medicaid should cover the non-service related costs should the poor veteran not be able to afford these costs, however, because the Supreme Court ruled last year it would be up to the states to decide whether or not to implement Medicaid expansion, an estimated 284,000 poor veterans, who would have qualified for Medicaid under the expansion, will not be able to access it.

Obamacare has NOTHING for the veteran, nor should it. But why the smoke and mirrors towards those who already are faced with a daunting, bureaucratic labyrinth and well deserved mistrust of the efficiency of a government program?

It’s a shame that in this age of returning veterans with complex health care issues we can’t find a better way to address their needs than with just a confusing “open letter” to them about something that can do nothing for them.

What we need is to allow veterans to seek out treatment at any municipal health care facility, just like Medicaid patients can do. Restricting care for veterans only through the ridiculous bottleneck of Veterans Administration facilities, which are inaccessible to most veterans who tend to live far from these facilities, for an estimated 400,000 suffering the effects of service-related TBI alone, is trite, myopic, unnecessary and a dishonor to their sacrifice.

I am the author of “Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior,” and three times mobilized U.S. Army Reserve Major (Retired). Author web page: http://sbpra.com/montgomeryjgranger/ Twitter @mjgranger1