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21 Association of the United States Navy suicide reduction – that's my top clinical priority – and a number of policy decisions that we've made have related to that issue of reducing suicide. And finally, we've focused on giving Veterans greater choice. at means using more care in the community, where it's appropriate, and working to fix our choice program, which has been a very complex, burdensome system to use, and to simplify that. It sounds like you've been very busy. We've been getting a lot done, yeah. The Forever GI Bill passed unani- mously in both the House and Senate and was signed into law in August. The law will expand the education benefits available to Veterans in several ways. What would you most like our members to know about it? Are you concerned that the program will run out of money? What is the long-term plan to support it? Well, I think this is one of the great successes so far of the Adminis- tration. It's taken a program which was started right aer World War II, the GI Bill, and recognized that it's probably one of the best invest- ments that America's made. Liter- ally millions of Veterans have taken advantage of it, and it has changed their lives and their families lives and made America much stronger because of their contributions. So what this GI Forever Bill does is builds upon that and extends the benefit to allow Veterans to go back at any point in their professional life and get more education to retool, to train, and to be able to contribute the way Veterans like to be able to contribute in unique ways. So, this is an important program that we want people to be able to use, we think it's a good investment, not only for Veterans, but for the rest of the country, and finding the sustainable resources for it is something that as Secretary I do all the time – to go back to Congress and to advocate for the resources to fund the programs that we believe are in Veterans' interests and the country's interest. There is a pilot program about decreasing wait times that you already told us about in your answer to the first question. Are there any more details that you would like our members to know about? Anything specific? is is one of our priorities, as I mentioned before, to decrease wait times [especially] for those who are clinically in greatest need of care. I wouldn't call them pilot programs – these are strong, strategic direc- tions where we're going full-bore. ey are to use greater access in the private sector, in the commu- nity, where it's necessary, and that's why we have seen an increase in community care year aer year, and now about a third of our care is being provided out in the commu- nity. We are doing extensive hiring to make sure that all our positions are filled so that we can improve access within the VA. ird, what we're doing is publishing our wait times and we're publishing our access scores. No other health system in the country is doing this, other than the VA. So if you look on the VA website, you can see exactly what your wait time would be at any VA in the country, and determine whether that meets your clinical needs or whether you feel like you can't wait and need to get care in the community. We also will soon be providing private-sector comparisons to those wait times, and what they will show is that while the VA continues to work hard to improve its wait times, they currently are much better on average than what you would find in the private sector. By a significant amount better. ere are certainly some parts of the country – and you can see this on our website – where we are still challenged with wait times because it's very hard to get health care professionals to move or to live in these areas. An example would be Guam, where some of our wait times are above a hundred days. at's completely unacceptable, but it's very hard to find health care professionals who are willing to travel and live in Guam, so there we have to use technology such as Telehealth, to be able to provide access to Veterans who live in the Guam area. Has the program for Veterans who access their prescriptions via mail been effective? Has this method of delivery helped to cut down on wait times in hospitals? Our mail-order pharmacy program is clearly a successful program. Close to 90 percent of Veterans take advantage of getting their medications by mail. When you ask Veterans if they're satisfied with it – as we asked J.D. Powers to evaluate our customer service – in nine of the last ten years, the VA mail- order pharmacy system has ranked number one in the country. at's comparing it not to government programs, but to all commercial mail-order pharmacies that are out there – the VA has outperformed them. So it's a very successful program that allows Veterans to Continued on next page

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