When it comes to making the most out of contracting resources, the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support wants to help veteran health care providers do more.
Although DLA Troop Support’s customers are predominately military, a Medical supply chain team has been traveling to medical centers in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Integrated Service Network 6 for face-to-face training that helps the North Carolina and Virginia facilities acquire the items needed for veteran care.
“It’s important to assist them and let them know the capabilities we have as an agency and what we bring to a really valuable partnership,” said Peter Skillings, Medical’s Collective and Foreign Military Sales branch chief. “We're trying to make all of our dollars go further, and this partnership enables bigger buying power, lower prices and helps the veteran, who was once our customer as the warfighter, get continuous good care.”
Skillings, accompanied by his teammates and representatives from the contracting side of the supply chain, took four-day trips over the course of three months to meet with approximately 80 VA personnel across the network and teach them about a web-based ordering system called the electronic catalogue, better known as ECAT.
ECAT automates the entire customer procurement cycle and helps customers save on average 15 percent from commercial pricings. Skillings said it could help the customers purchase dental and medical surgical supplies and laboratory, optical and hospital equipment, such as crowns, microscopes, beds and devices, at lower costs and with faster delivery.
One of the trainers, Gabriela Moraga, a Medical tailored vendor logistics specialist, said their goal was to help customers know the ins and outs of the program, while also developing a better understanding of each medical center’s acquisition issues and concerns.
“We wanted to show them the builder roles, how to create a cart, how to research their [purchasing] history and we explained the authorizer roles such as posting receipts, which is very important for [ECAT],” explained Moraga. “We showed them how to research different items, discussed the important things they need to look for, and we also learned what accommodations they needed so that they can order successfully.”
For example, one accommodation made was due to a VA requirement to purchase from veteran-owned or service disabled veteran-owned businesses.
“Having VA customers come to our system, we had to make ECAT easier to identify the certified small businesses they have to do business with,” Skillings explained. “Now we have a feature in ECAT that identifies veteran businesses, which is a very good feature and an enhancement that is helping us overall as an agency. It was a win-win…we were happy to do it.”
In Aug. 2019, DLA and the VA signed an interagency agreement centralizing the procurement of medical services. Although the agreement took place that summer, some VA medical centers have been using ECAT since Jan. 2018.
For VISN 6, Moraga said only three facilities used ECAT in 2018 to order $1.4 million worth of equipment, but the following year, all of the facilities used it for $12.8 million in purchases.
With ordering trending upwards, the Medical team believed face-to-face training would help the medical centers maximize the full financial and readiness potential of the program.
But Skillings said teaching customers to use ECAT properly is not all about increasing sales numbers, rather there’s a benefit for everyone involved.
“We support the customer as a warfighter and the VA has that same customer a little later in life...so we're working for the same person in a sense,” Skillings said. “And as more VA customers use the program, the prices drop for all participants - DOD and federal government agencies.”
It also helps that there’s a personal motivation to doing this.
Like other employees at DLA Troop Support, Skillings and Moraga are both veterans. Skillings spent 12 years in the Coast Guard, while Moraga served six years in the Army.
They use VA medical centers for their own health care, so helping the facilities do more with their resources matters to them.
“Whether we [veterans] use the VA health care system or not, a lot of us here at DLA Troop Support have friends, family, and neighbors that are veterans - people that we care for,” Moraga said. “So why not help [the VA medical facilities]? Sometimes it's not as easy for you to go out into the private sector for health care because they don't understand veteran problems the way the VA does.”
Skillings believes continuing these customer engagements not only helps Medical understand the VA’s business intelligence, but it offers opportunities to talk with VA customers, learn their impediments and help make the acquisition process better.
The Medical team plans to continue helping other VISNs, targeting major markets that have two or three medical facilities within the network. Skillings said the goal is to educate them on the program and enhance the acquisition process to foster the partnership between the agencies.
Customers interested in receiving training or more information should email the Medical Collective team or the ECAT Help Desk or call 1-800-290-8201.