New Castle News


June 13, 2014

Our Opinion: Fixing VA hospitals will take concerted effort

NEW CASTLE — There’s nothing like a crisis to get Congress to abandon its usual rhetorical nonsense and take quick action.

Of course, rapid and nearly unanimous votes in the House and Senate raise the question of whether or not lawmakers are properly assessing their decisions.

Such is the case with efforts this week to provide additional funding and changes to procedures within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The move comes in the aftermath of revelations thousands of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals were essentially being ignored, and some of them may have died as a result.

The scandal already has led to the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, and the Obama administration is scrambling to both explain how these problems could arise on its watch and how it intends to resolve them.

Lawmakers have been quick to demand action and declare their support for veterans. But while there are obviously structural and management issues to address within the VA, the lack of ongoing financial support from Congress appears to be a problem as well.

VA hospitals have been burdened, not only with aging veterans from the World War II, Korean and Vietnam eras, but also an influx of those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. When an audit finds that more than 57,000 veterans had to wait at least three months just for an initial medical appointment, and 64,000 veterans who sought appointments never received them, this is far more than just some bureaucratic snafu.

Clearly, VA hospitals don’t have the resources they need to get the job done.

Word surfaced this week that the FBI is now investigating the scandal, looking at the possibility falsified treatment records of veterans amount to criminal acts. It seems that within the VA bureaucracy, some staff were pressured to document that veterans were receiving treatment in a timely fashion, even if that claim was false.

Typically, bureaucratic incompetence or insensitivity doesn’t rise to the criminal level. But when deaths are involved and government records are falsely presented, the stakes are raised. Unfortunately, putting some people in prison may be what it takes to get the VA to come clean and demand more of itself.

That’s because while the recent findings may be dramatic, they aren’t exactly new. Countless reports into the workings of the VA over the years have found widespread evidence of a lack of responsiveness to the needs of veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs must be fixed. Shinseki’s resignation — while inevitable — doesn’t address the underlying problems. It is a bureaucracy in need of serious reform and restructuring. That includes proper funding, the empowerment of veterans to seek alternative sources of care, sound management and criminal charges when warranted.

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