GUEST COMMENTARY: We need to listen, take the advice of Missouri's veterans

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

It's easy to talk about how important our military veterans are — to talk about improving the benefits they've earned and how Congress should keep its promises to our veterans. Unfortunately, what's less common than talking is actually listening to what our veterans have to say about the care they receive.

That's what was new about an effort I launched more than a year ago along with veterans service organizations and Veterans Affairs. Our Veterans Customer Satisfaction Program brings together veterans, the VA, patient advocates and concerned members of Missouri communities to listen to the voice of everyday Missouri veterans who are receiving care at VA hospitals.

With feedback directly from veterans, our coalition works to address the frustrations that veterans experience with their VA health care and is able to further assess the quality of their care and offer suggestions about how to improve it.

In short, the mission of the program is to provide oversight and accountability for the VA health care system by allowing veterans to confidentially record details of their experiences and to seek solutions with the VA when problems are identified.

As you may know, this effort grew out of my visit in late 2010 to the John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis amid reports of problems at the facility. I went so I could see things firsthand and hear directly from the veterans there.

Not long thereafter, I created the Veterans Customer Satisfaction Program; it was clear veterans' voices were not being heard and that veterans needed a confidential way to provide feedback. Since then, two reports have been issued in St. Louis (and care at John Cochran has reportedly steadily improved), and the Veterans Customer Satisfaction Program is in place at two other VA hospitals across our state: Kansas City and Columbia. The first report in Kansas City was issued late last year.

Now, I'm looking to hear more from our veterans about the improvements they've seen in their care, as well as areas where we still need to do more work.

If you're a Columbia-area veteran who receives care through the VA, visit my website to give your confidential feedback.

With the Veterans Customer Satisfaction Program, we're putting the power back into the hands of veterans and ensuring that we make good on the promises made to those who served. My goal is to continue to have an aggressive program that holds our VA medical centers accountable for providing the best health care possible to our veterans.

We've made some great strides over the past few years when it comes to keeping faith with our veterans. We passed the new G.I. Bill and replaced and strengthened the management of Arlington National Cemetery. We've boosted the mileage reimbursement for veterans traveling long miles to get to a doctor, improved mental health services for returning veterans and passed legislation to create more jobs for unemployed veterans. And most recently, I teamed up with my friend Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia — a former combat Marine in Vietnam and secretary of the Navy — to protect veterans' access to education and job opportunities and to protect our veterans from being taken advantage of by for-profit colleges.

But the most effective way to ensure we're living up to the promises made to our veterans is to actually stop and listen to what they have to tell us.

If you're a Columbia-area veteran, I hope you'll visit my website and give us your confidential feedback so we can keep moving in the right direction.

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill is the daughter of a World War II veteran and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Veterans Jobs Caucus.

Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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