New VA Programs Target Better Care for Older Veterans

New VA Programs Target Better Care for Older Veterans
A view of the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center in Cleveland, one of 16 locations to receive accreditation under a new program designed to improve emergency care for older veterans. (VA photo)

No one likes going to the hospital emergency room and waiting hours on end to get care. Emergency visits for older Americans can be particularly tough and time critical.


For veterans, who typically have complex health conditions and are at higher risk as they age, visits to a VA medical facility emergency department (ED) can be lifesaving with the right kind of care at the right time.


MOAA and our partners in The Military Coalition, a group of organizations representing nearly 5.5 million members of the greater military community, remain focused on aging veterans and caregiver issues. We are monitoring closely how the VA is meeting older veterans’ needs through policies and legislation.


September is Healthy Aging Month, and the VA is stepping up its game to ensure veterans have an age-friendly health care system they can count on.


Emergency Department Improvements

One such initiative the VA launched this month is its Geriatric Emergency Department (ED) initiative. In partnership with the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), The John Hartford Foundation, and the West Health Institute, the VA formalized its intention of implementing, across the nation’s largest health care network, a specialized and comprehensive approach for delivering geriatric emergency care.


“The country’s 19.5 million veterans 65 and over account for nearly half of emergency department visits at VA hospitals — more than double the rate for seniors nationwide,” said VA Acting Under Secretary for Health Dr. Steven L. Lieberman. “Our goal is to lower this number by ensuring VA’s elderly population receives age-friendly emergency care, while improving care coordination in communities across the nation.”


[RELATED: What’s Next for VA’s Troubled Electronic Health Records Program?]


The idea is to equip VA hospitals to treat older veterans (especially those with complex health conditions), address their unmet needs, and provide the necessary follow-up care. This includes screening seniors who are at risk for cognitive impairment, delirium, falls, functional decline, and caregiver burnout — then providing a comprehensive approach and person-centered care to prevent readmissions.


The VA’s goal through the partnership is to identify 70 EDs eligible to be fully accredited through the ACEP’s Geriatric Emergency Department Accreditation program by December 2022.


According to the VA, accredited EDs have shown to not only reduce hospital readmissions, but reduce health risks to patients and costs of care. Lessons learned from this national initiative will be shared with other health care systems outside of the VA.


To date, 16 VA sites have achieved one of the three accreditation levels (1 being highest):

  • Cleveland (1)
  • Louisville, Ky. (2)
  • Atlanta (2)
  • Buffalo, N.Y. (2)
  • Durham, N.C. (2)
  • Syracuse, N.Y. (2)
  • Palo Alto, Calif. (3)  
  • Charleston, S.C. (3)
  • New Orleans (3)
  • Grand Junction, Colo. (3)
  • Greater Los Angeles (3)
  • San Diego (3)
  • Madison, Wis. (3)
  • Long Beach, Calif. (3)
  • West Haven, Conn. (3)
  • Salt Lake City (3)


Age-Friendly VA Health Care System

The VA is also focusing this month on delivering high-quality care for older veterans by joining a National Age-Friendly Health Systems initiative with The John A. Hartford Foundation, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, the American Hospital Association, and the Catholic Health Association of the United States.


The initiative employs a set of evidenced-based practices that stresses no harm to patients and aligns care with what matters most to older adults and their caregivers.


Aging Veterans Are a MOAA Priority

Expanding access to caregiving programs like geriatric care, palliative care, extended care, and hospice care services for veterans and wounded warriors, and their caregivers is a top priority outlined earlier this year in MOAA testimony on the Hill.


In August, MOAA reported on some of the challenges facing the VA in meeting the rising demand for long-term care in its medical system.  


The VA faces many challenges in providing care and services to the increasingly aging veteran population. The pandemic has further strained VA resources in both staffing and funding of services for older veterans.


While collaborative partnership initiatives like the Geriatric Emergency Department are promising, more steps are needed in sustaining key services and seeking innovative solutions if the VA is going to be to meet the escalating demand for care by older veterans.


How You Can Help MOAA

Do you or your loved one have an experience to share about the care you received at a VA hospital emergency department?


Your information helps inform MOAA’s work with the VA and lawmakers. Tell us about the experience by emailing


MOAA Looks Out For You

MOAA is committed to protecting the rights of servicemembers and their families. Lend your voice and support these efforts today. Because the larger our voice is, the greater our impact will be.


About the Author

Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret)
Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret)

Campos currently serves as MOAA's Senior Director of Government Relations, managing matters related to military and veterans’ health care, wounded, ill and injured, and caregiver policy.