Our veterans should be among our nation’s top priorities. So it’s unacceptable when we don’t ensure that their most basic needs are met after they’ve served their duties protecting us.
Veterans Affairs, the federal department charged with ensuring that our veterans are taken care of, has been failing to improve access to care for veterans and the head of the department admits that efforts to do better are still falling short.
In a speech this week, Secretary Robert McDonald acknowledged that the VA is still struggling to keep up with the healthcare needs of millions of veterans. He said VA medical staff completed 3.1 million more appointments and hired thousands of new medical staff including doctors and nurses to oversee the care of veterans.
But this is not enough. As might have been anticipated, McDonald tries to shirk blame by saying that the VA just needs more money. While turnover at the VA is only 9 percent, compared to 30 percent at private-sector medical centers, McDonald claims they need more federal dollars to hire 4,300 more doctors, 10,000 more nurses, and a few dozen senior-level vacancies.
The Washington Post reports:
“The more veterans come to us for care, the harder to balance supply and demand — without additional resources,” McDonald said Friday in a speech at the National Press Club in advance of Veterans Day this week. “That kind of imbalance predicts failure in any business, public or private.”
As more veterans have come to VA as access to medical care has improved, though, demand is outpacing medical resources, McDonald said. While most veterans are seen by doctors within 30 days of making an appointment, the number of visits not completed in 30 days has grown to nearly 500,000 from 300,000.
“Access to care has improved,” McDonald said. “But here’s the inevitability: Improved access means more demand.”
He described a “growing shortage of qualified candidates” as a “national problem.” VA is working with medical schools and asking Congress to approve more slots for residents, in addition to medical school loan reimbursements, he said.
Ensuring health care for those who have protected us is essential, but we should be skeptical about shoveling more tax dollars into an agency that hasn’t demonstrated reform. Has the VA rooted out all of the bad apples and behaviors that led to the hiding of a backlog of appointments that led to unconscionable wait times, and sometimes death, for sick veterans?
The editorial staff at The Republic in Arizona, ground-zero for the scandal eruption in 2014, is not convinced:
Any legitimate reform today has to begin with truth — iron-clad facts backed by strong, reliable data.
So it is troubling that Secretary McDonald is once again claiming success with metrics the agency either hasn’t produced or simply doesn’t have. This is the second time this year one of McDonald’s boasts has charged up the hill without the supporting numbers.
Speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday, McDonald said the VA has proposed disciplinary action against 300 employees responsible for delayed care and falsified wait times.
However, as reported by The Arizona Republic’s Dennis Wagner, a VA spreadsheet provided to House and Senate committees lists only 24 cases in which strong actions were taken against employees who participated in wait-time manipulation.
One of the most important tasks facing McDonald is restoring credibility, and so it’s critical his word be gold.
A repair project of this magnitude requires trustworthy data to identify problems and measure progress. If the data coming from the secretary’s mouth is unsupported, how can any of us be confident the problems will be solved.
On the day set aside to remember the sacrifice and service of our veterans, we can’t turn a blind eye to the wrong inflicted on them by federal bureaucrats, who are more concerned about covering up their mistakes and slothful performance than the health of those they served.
McDonald tries to claim that those responsible for delayed care and falsified wait times are being held responsible. We need some names! Our veterans deserve more than excuses, and today is a day to remember their sacrifices and how shamefully many have been treated.