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Supporting Our Veterans

The Cutting-Edge Innovations in Veterans’ Healthcare

On this Veterans Day, as we honor all who served, I reflect on the inspiring work led by the employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that keeps veterans at the heart of what we accomplish every day across our country. 


Dr. Steven L. Lieberman

Acting Under Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

For the past 75 years, the Veterans Health Administration, the nation’s largest integrated healthcare system, has been at the forefront of innovation, providing veterans with the world-class care and benefits they have earned. Imparting such care is not only our mission, but also our motivation and our promise. 

To deliver on this commitment, VA is — and always has been — on a journey of innovation that renders tailored health services to 6.5 million enrolled Veterans with diverse challenges and preferences. 

VA Did That

Our recently launched “VA Did That” campaign highlights the research and discoveries that comprise VA’s history of many “firsts” in innovation. To provide a glimpse, the first clinically successful cardiac pacemaker was invented by VA researchers in 1960. The first liver transplant was performed by VA physician Dr. Thomas E. Starzl in 1967. In 1992, a visionary VA nurse worked to introduce the now-familiar wireless real-time bar code medication administration program, automating the process to ensure patient safety. 

For VA, innovation is a continuous process. Five years ago, Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Burch became the first paralyzed servicemember to walk at his promotion ceremony. An impossible feat to imagine at the time of his injury, it was made possible by the exoskeleton system developed by VA. 

Today, at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia, the Marine is trailblazing yet again. This time, he is participating in a study testing implants to become the first VA patient to regain function in his lower body. 

The cutting edge

Innovation is everywhere at VA. Researchers at the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System are experimenting with converting the body’s blood sugar into energy that will power prosthetic hands and feet, or implantable devices, like pacemakers and deep brain stimulators. If successful, this technology will be the first of its kind. 

Additionally, researchers with the VA Bedford and VA Boston Health Care Systems are using light to help detect Alzheimer’s early, easily, and safely. Yet another groundbreaking VA partnership supplies veterans at risk of diabetic foot ulcers with mats that use artificial intelligence to detect these ulcers up to five weeks before they would normally present. The list goes on.

Today’s challenges

While VA’s scientific community remains focused on its groundbreaking research, studying every aspect of veterans’ health, our doctors, nurses and other medical workers continue to meet the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Most importantly, VA never closed its doors during the height of the pandemic. We completed more than 70 million appointments in 2020, saving lives with vaccines, and providing in-person and virtual medical and mental health care to veterans. When much of the country was running out of personal protective equipment and testing supplies, VA mobilized 3D printing technology to prototype PPE to help close the critical supply gap. 

These successes in VA’s healthcare delivery system have enabled VA to treat more than 315,000 COVID-19 patients. When faced with the deadliest pandemic in a century, VA rose to the challenge, just like we have for the past 75 years.

These historic, ongoing, and groundbreaking advancements have been the cornerstone of not only improving veterans’ health and well-being, but also in pioneering research that improves care worldwide. VA’s commitment to innovation will secure our place as a leader in healthcare advancement and service delivery for years to come.

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