January 16, 2019

Health, Healing, and Hope: A Review of Suzanne Gordon’s ‘Wounds of War’

By Kayla M. Williams

I’ve long been bewildered by the extensive negative news coverage of the Department of Veterans Affairs, where I formerly worked and continue to get all my medical care. My confusion does not stem from a misplaced belief that there are never problems at VA medical centers: human error is virtually unavoidable, and in a system that serves over six million patients a year, it seems inevitable that some of them will have negative experiences. Nor is it because I don’t believe in the value of journalists and members of Congress holding VA accountable: I fully recognize the benefit of oversight for continual improvement. Rather, my puzzlement stems from the vast gap between the relentlessly downbeat media stories and the data showing VA consistently out-performs other sectors of care in quality, safety, effectiveness, timeliness, and other measures – despite serving an older, sicker, and poorer population – at lower cost.

Those interested in an in-depth exploration of America’s largest integrated health care system would be well-served to read Suzanne Gordon’s paean to the Veterans Health Administration, Wounds of War: How the VA Delivers Health, Healing, and Hope to the Nation’s Veterans (Cornell University Press, 2018). Gordon brings the deeply valuable perspective of someone who has many years of experience reporting on the broader healthcare landscape to this project. Unlike short pieces by journalists who must cover multiple beats in a competitive media landscape, she has the background and depth to move beyond superficial coverage using VA’s self-reported data to compare individual VA facilities to one another, and instead takes on the far more complicated task of assessing VA in comparison to other care systems on a wide range of topics, from primary care to suicide prevention to geriatrics. Crucially, Gordon also identifies ways in which VA improves health care for all Americans, such as by training 70% of medical residents and conducting tremendous amounts of research – which has resulted in advances including the nicotine patch, implantable cardiac pacemaker, and best care practices implemented nationwide.

Read the full article in The Military Spouse Book Review.

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