A Tuesday night address from the executive director of the Fort Harrison VA discussed new construction and a change in the mission statement for the 2019 fiscal year.
Executive Director Kathy Berger spoke to a group of veterans and VA employees working through the previous year's accomplishments and changes coming in the near future. The Montana VA has 16 sites in the state covering an area as big as that, if transposed to the East Coast, would go from Maine to Virginia. That can be a problem for care, Berger said, which is why the VA is expanding its telehealth abilities and on-site offerings.
Berger also shared some surprising demographic changes the VA expects to see in Montana in the next decade.
"Female veterans are projected to make up 10 percent of enrollees by 2026," Berger said, but total veteran populations are expected to shrink by 13 percent, even while enrolled veterans at the VA will increase by nearly 1 percent over the next 10 years.
The Fort Harrison VA site saw the most visits in the 2018 fiscal year with 197,299 outpatient visits. Including the Helena Sleep Disorders Clinic, the total number of Helena visits was more than 200,000. The next closest was Billings VA, with 84,513 visits, according to VA statistics.
Wait times for outpatient care stayed steady at Fort Harrison in the past year. According to internal metrics, the Fort Harrison VA did well in comparison to other VA hospitals across the nation, just 1 percentage point out of the national top 25 percent of hospital ratings.
Berger said the VA was working on future expansions of care, including new care for pregnant women and telehealth appointments for gynecological care.
Six different construction projects will begin or continue on Fort Harrison in the next year. A new primary care addition, a dedicated outpatient mental health building, a project converting old rooms into private patient rooms, an additional specialty care suite for outpatient procedures and a major seismic mitigation project will continue this year. Another project to convert housing units to help homeless vets all, while not directly under the VA's purview, will also continue in fiscal year 2019.