America's veterans deserve the very best this nation can offer to honor their service and sacrifice. The 337,000 employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs -- nearly one-third of whom, like me, are veterans themselves -- care deeply for every veteran we are privileged to serve.
What veterans do not deserve is misinformation and distortions that may cause them to avoid seeking the services and benefits they earned. They deserve the facts.
VA operates the largest integrated health care system in the country, with 1,700 sites of care. VA is consistently recognized for excellence by independent reviews and organizations. From the Annals of Internal Medicine, to the Joint Commission and the RAND Corp., VA health care outperforms the private sector in quality of care, treating acute and chronic illnesses, and in delivering preventive care.
We do this with unprecedented transparency, down to posting public data about each hospital's performance.
Each day, VA provides veterans and eligible family members more than 236,000 health care appointments. That's like seeing almost every active duty member of the Marines and Coast Guard every day. In surveys, veterans consistently give VA health care high marks, comparable to private sector ratings.
Yet no health care system of this size and complexity can be free of error, some tragic. When an incident occurs, we do what we learned in the military. Acknowledge it. Learn from it. Then, work to fix it.
Misinformation about VA care comes at a huge human cost, discouraging those who might reach out for help. For instance, veteran suicide is a national tragedy made worse by the fact that the vast majority of veterans who take their lives are not enrolled in VA health care.
We estimate that more than 1 million uninsured veterans could qualify for VA health care; but because they don't know, or are told misinformation, they may forgo a lifetime of earned care and benefits.
Luckily, most veterans learned in the military to seek ground truth, to see for themselves. Since 2009, Secretary Eric Shinseki has led an unprecedented expansion of access to VA care and benefits.
More than 2 million new veterans have enrolled in VA health care. More than 1 million veterans and their families have benefitted from the post-9/11 GI Bill. In 2013, VA guaranteed a record number of home loans and provided $53.6 billion in disability compensation to 3.6 million veterans.
It is not just the facts that veterans deserve. Our nation has pledged to honor the service of these brave men and women. Those of us charged with providing that care and those benefits will continue to serve and continue to improve. Veterans deserve no less.
Tommy Sowers, Ph.D., is a vetrean of the Iraq War and is currently serving as the assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information about the VA, go to www.va.gov/explore/index.asp.