For Francisco Vazquez – who started as the new director at the Robert J. Dole Veterans Affairs Medical Center last week – working with veterans is more than a job.
“My father is a veteran, I am a veteran, and my son is going to be a veteran, so I am very interested that the VA is relevant now and into the future,” he said.
Vazquez is the first permanent director since Tom Sanders retired in May 2012. Since then, the medical center has had several interim directors.
When he’s not working, his favorite things are reading on a wide range of topics, playing soccer and going to see live music.
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He has held positions as assistant and associate medical center director at VA facilities in Houston, Oklahoma City and Altoona, Pa. He was an active duty naval officer for four years in San Diego and he holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Universidad Sagrado Corazon in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The Dole medical center has a staff of more than 900 and an operating budget of more than $187 million. It cares for more than 30,000 veterans each year at its main facility in Wichita and its clinics in Fort Dodge, Hays, Parsons, Liberal, Salina and Hutchinson.
Vazquez’s wife and 12-year-old twins – a boy and a girl – are joining him in Wichita next week. He also has a 22-year-old son who attends the University of Houston and a 24-year-old son who is stationed at Fort Sam Houston.
I know you’ve only been here a week, but what are some of your goals for the medical center?
What I do want to do is strengthen our relationship with the University of Kansas School of Medicine. We have a great working relationship with them and we also want to strengthen our relationship with McConnell Air Force Base. I am working on meeting with the leadership of both the school and the Air Force base in the coming weeks. We are very proud of the fact we recently signed a sharing agreement with the Air Force base and were able to provide health care services for active duty members per the agreement. My intent is to strengthen that and see what else we can do to broaden that sharing agreement and provide even more common services.
My intent is to also foster and build upon our relationship with our community leaders. I believe working closely with our community leadership, congressional delegation and other stakeholders is critical because my goal here is to exceed the expectations for health care and customer service for each of our veterans every time they come to us.
What do you think are going to be some of the biggest challenges moving forward?
One of our biggest challenges is to always find a way to deliver the types of services that are relevant to the needs of our veterans, because every war has signature injuries.
For example, Korea had trench foot, Vietnam had Agent Orange, and in more recent conflicts we have PTSD, traumatic brain injury and other things, so we continually need to adapt and offer care that meets the needs of our current veteran population.
The more we learn about this new veteran population, that gives us the information we need to ensure that the scope of services we are providing meet their health care needs.
And what about the facility itself?
We are working on a number of construction projects. I believe the construction of this main center was in 1935, and we have added some building space as the needs have come up. So space is always something we are looking at maximizing.
Over the next several months, we will open up a new facility for mental health and behavioral health programs. Making sure we have the right infrastructure is a challenge but we have been able to meet that.
Will the medical center be impacted by the ongoing government shutdown?
The funding for the Veterans Health Administration, which is what the medical center falls under, was appropriated in advance of fiscal year ’14, so we are not affected by the current government shutdown.
So the message I would like to send to the veterans, the community and our leaders is that the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center is funded, we’re open for business and we’re offering our full scope of services to veterans and we feel very fortunate to be able to do so.
It’s my understanding the regional office, which is also located on this campus, has been impacted by the shutdown. Do you know anything about it?
The regional office has been impacted by the government shutdown, and they have had to scale back some of their services, but that’s all the information I have.
Do you think the medical center is adequately funded for the goals you have and to meet future needs?
Our funding is commensurate to our workload, which is based on the patients we see and the complexity of the care we provide and I feel comfortable that the budget is adequate to our needs and to provide the full scope of services we have now. We are well funded....
We don’t provide free care at this medical center. The care has been paid for through the sacrifice and service of our veterans and we’re just paying them back.