Veteran in a wheelchair talking to a healthcare provider

Community Care Network: Healthcare for Veterans, When and Where It’s Needed

MITRE helps the Department of Veterans Affairs launch the $80 billion program to improve healthcare services for the nation’s diverse veteran population.

Every day, approximately 20 U.S. veterans succumb to suicide. Roughly eight percent of veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Close to 400,000 receive treatment from the VA for traumatic brain injuries.

Imagine those who’ve served with honor, forced to drive hours to see a specialist. Or waiting months for a primary care appointment. Or worse, showing up at their local hospital emergency room with a mental health crisis—and being turned away because they have no referral.

Enter the newly implemented VA Community Care Network (CCN), now serving the nine million veterans enrolled in VA healthcare. In the event an eligible veteran can’t access timely, quality care directly from a VA facility, CCN ensures care in their community. For at-risk veterans and those in underserved areas, this can mean the difference between life and death.

As the operator of VA’s federally funded research and development center, MITRE worked with the VA’s Office of Community Care to lead acquisition efforts.

With a program this complex, successful acquisition is no small feat. It requires years of planning. Number crunching and cost modeling. Contracts, modifications, and meticulous compliance.

The goal: help the civilian medical systems and community services become more responsive to veterans and their needs. To meet that goal, MITRE’s interdisciplinary team helped ensure a seamless acquisition process.

“Partnering with MITRE to take on the challenging task of CCN acquisitions provided consistency and expertise across five regions,” says Natalie Frey, VA’s program manager for CCN acquisitions.

“MITRE’s objective advice and creative solutions went a long way toward making certain the acquisitions stayed on track while adjusting to changes in VA leadership, policy, and healthcare requirements.”

No Ordinary Replacement

CCN evolved following Congressional, White House, and VA realization that the diversity of services and locations where those services were needed could not be effectively provided by the agency’s healthcare services alone.

Our expertise in areas such as acquisition, cost modeling, healthcare, and health policy, within the context of our experience as a trusted government adviser, contributed to VA’s successful implementation of CCN, according to Lisa Dargis. She leads MITRE’s support to the program.

CCN replaces previous programs with one consolidated network for community care. Under the  2018 Mission Act, Congress sought even more aggressive upgrades to services for veterans. MITRE worked with the VA to implement “regional networks of high-performing licensed health care providers who will work together with VA providers and practitioners to provide medical, dental, and pharmacy services to eligible Veterans who are unable to receive care at local VA medical centers.”

CCN offers an expanded scope of care—for things like dialysis, home hospice, organ transplants, and in vitro fertilization. Veterans also benefit from overall improvements in customer service, referrals and authorizations, and scheduling.

Keeping the Mission in Mind

With so much at stake, Dargis says our fiduciary responsibility to the public provided key focus for our work. “When you’re planning an acquisition strategy for a national healthcare network, an objective perspective is key to considering possible options and determining what’s best.

“MITRE serving in this role provides solutions that don’t prohibit or limit competition after the fact. Every step of the way, we made sure our recommendations reflected good stewardship of the taxpayer dollar—and aimed to improve outcomes for veterans.”

She feels rewarded by actually seeing such outcomes realized. For example, several MITRE staff who are veterans have emailed her pictures of CCN appointment letters—praising how fast they got scheduled for care in the community.

CCN acquisition may be complete, but our support to the VA continues. Next step? Developing a roadmap for planning the next generation of CCN.

For the challenges ahead, Dargis and her team continually keep the mission in mind. “The goal is always timely, high-quality care for the veteran,” Dargis says.

“This impacts people’s lives. We owe those who’ve served our country access to good healthcare.”

by Denise Schiavone