By Robert L. Jesse, Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health, Veterans Health Administration

WHILE VETERANS HEALTH ADMINISTRATION (VHA) is advancing healthcare quality, we are also committed to being a leader in achieving healthcare equity. Healthcare equity is more than providing access to health services, it is ensuring those services are of high quality, equitably delivered, and customized to meet the needs of each individual. The organization is transforming from a disease focus to a proactive patient-driven focus, providing prevention health and well-being in a way that eliminates disparate health outcomes and ensures health equity. Focusing healthcare delivery on the individual requires VA to create a system that values and appreciates the needs of each veteran.

Over eight million veterans are enrolled to receive care at VHA; 20 percent are racial and ethnic minorities, and that number is growing. It is important to have a workforce that reflects the communities and people served. A diverse and inclusive workforce creates a diverse and inclusive healthcare system that can relate to and accommodate the cultures, backgrounds, and viewpoints of all veterans.

To achieve equity, it is important to identify the differences that exist, understanding the causes of those differences, and when appropriate, developing interventions that ensure equity. The organization has a commitment to research focused on identifying and understanding health and healthcare disparities, especially those unique to veterans. These research activities address disparities among multiple ethnic and racial groups and system-level healthcare delivery disparities. Most notable are two research centers, the Center for Health Equity Research & Promotion and the Health Equity and Rural Outreach Innovation Center, along with fifteen other studies exploring why health inequities exist and potential solutions.

This summer an Office of Health Equity (OHE) was launched, with a mission to coordinate programs, projects, research, and initiatives that address health disparities and equity in health and healthcare within VHA. Over the next year, OHE will develop a Health Equity Action Plan. The comprehensive plan will focus on disparity reduction, metrics for equitable access and health outcomes, and cultural competency training for staff. OHE will translate research and quality improvement findings into operational plans, clinical treatment, education, and outreach services.

America’s veterans and their families have made many sacrifices in service to our country. The 272,000 employees of the VHA, myself included, are committed to serving them by providing healthcare tailored to their personal goals for health.