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South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS)

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South Texas holds inaugural tele townhall

Two women are looking at the dashboard program on a computer screen

Two volunteers from the South Texas VA, wait for callers to filter into the dashboard. Two different groups called screeners and collectors took information from Veterans to be asked to the leadership team. (VA Photo by Steve Goetsch)

By Steven Goetsch
Thursday, May 16, 2019

The saying goes, “Everything is bigger in Texas.” That also applies the catchment area of the South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS) which spans more than 42,000 square miles from Sanderson to Port Lavaca, Texas.

That large geographical footprint, along with the upcoming rollout of 2018’s MISSION Act were the impetus for STVHCS to hold its first-ever tele townhall April 30.

On April 30, the South Texas VA held using telephones allows STVHCS senior leadership to provide information to all Veterans, even in the remotest areas of the state. It began with the identification of Veterans who had previously used the Choice 40 program. Roughly 3,000 Veterans received calls announcing the date and time of the town hall.

A group of poeple are sitting at a table listening to a phone caller

STVHCS Director, Mr. Christopher Sandles, listens to a patient who called in during the inaugural tele town hall. Sandles could select from a group of callers and answer questions that had a wide appeal.

Roughly 700 Veterans stayed on for at least a portion of the town hall which detailed some of the changes to community care that the MISSION Act brings, one of the most important being the six eligibility requirements for community care under the VA MISSION Act.

  • Veteran needs a service not available at VA
  • Veteran resides in a State without a full-service VA medical facility
  • Veteran was eligible under the 40-mile criteria from the Veterans Choice Program
  • Veteran meets specific access standards for average drive time or appointment wait times
  • Veteran and the referring clinician agree it’s in the Veteran’s best medical interest
  • Veteran needs care from a medical service line that VA determines is not providing care that complies with VA’s standards for quality.

After the MISSION Act overview, there was also an opportunity to ask questions about the changes. From eligibility to prescriptions, experts in those respected fields were on hand to provide answers.

Overall, Veterans approved of the new townhall format. Each Veteran on the line was asked to key in answers to poll questions. When asked if they preferred a Telephone Town Hall format over face-to-face, 77 percent of respondents selected telephone format. Army Veteran Vanessa Russell preferred the tele town hall format. “It was very easy,” Russell said. “I really appreciated when they reached out to us.” Russell said she would like to be a part of it [tele town halls] in the future.

Another polling question asked Veterans if they were able to receive the information they were looking for. Seventy four percent said they did. Much of the discussion centered around the Office of Community Care’s third-party administrator.

Karla Strawn, Chief of the Community Care office delivered some good news for the Veterans in attendance. “One of the components of the MISSION Act is that the VA is taking the customer service piece back,” Strawn said.

She also discussed one of the more immediate changes to the program and how Veterans go about requesting care. Strawn said those Veterans who are already eligible through the Choice 40 Program, should call her office at 210-949-3850 to request care.

Some Veterans had complex issues that could not be resolved on the spot. The telephone townhall format could also accommodate those. A patient would be asked to press seven on his phone where he would be patched back to a designated information “collector” on hand to document the Veteran’s issue and contact information. Veterans were guaranteed their feedback would be vetted within 72 business hours.

The follow-up was a positive for Russell. “They answered all the questions and made us comfortable,” Russell said. “I like that they gave us the option to stay on the line and get to us after the town hall was over.”

The next telephone town hall will focus on Women Veteran’s Health and take place in mid-June. If you would like to know more about VA’s MISSION Act, read the overview.



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