Nicholson Announces 100 New Patient Advocates for Wounded Secretary Pledges Support for Presidential Commission, Continued Outreach

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America's Veterans


Mar 06, 2007 - WASHINGTON - Continuing the strong support of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in meeting the needs of returning combat veterans, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson announced the Department is immediately hiring 100 new patient advocates to help severely injured veterans and their families navigate VA's systems for health care and financial benefits.

"Even in a system like VA's, that now has over one million patient visits a week and is rated by many as 'the best health care system in the country,' even one veteran not receiving world-class care is unacceptable," Nicholson told a meeting of senior leaders of the American Legion.

The VA secretary said the 100 new patient advocates will be veterans of the combat theaters in Iraq or Afghanistan. Their job will be to ensure a smooth transition for wounded service members to VA health care facilities throughout the nation, while also cutting through red tape for other benefits.

The Department's network of four "polytrauma centers" -- in Minneapolis; Tampa, Fla.; Richmond, Va.; and Palo Alto, Calif. -- that care for the most seriously injured veterans, has recently been expanded with 17 additional facilities, designated as "polytrauma networks sites," which will provide world-class care at locations closer to home for more veterans.

"VA has adapted - and will continue to adapt - its health care system to the unique medical issues facing our newest generation of combat veterans, while locating services closer to where veterans live," Nicholson said.

He noted that all VA health care professionals are now receiving mandated training in diagnosing "traumatic brain injury," or TBI, which frequently involves brain injuries without apparent exterior wounds. VA will soon also begin screening all its patients who are veterans of the Global War on Terror for TBI.

"To ensure VA is taking advantage of the latest technology, treatment, innovations and diagnostic insights, VA will establish a panel of outside experts to review our polytrauma system of care, including our TBI programs," Nicholson said.

VA operates the nation's largest integrated health care system, with 5.8 million patients expected this year - including 209,000 veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom -- at 1,400 sites of care, including 155 hospitals, nearly 900 outpatient clinics and 135 nursing homes.