Roy Exum: Woeful Care Of Veterans

Monday, December 9, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The United States spends $150 billion each year to fund the badly-maligned Department of Veterans Affairs. There are 7 million veterans who depend on the VA for health care and over 300,000 Americans who are employed at 152 medical centers across the country. It is the second-largest government agency, right behind the Pentagon, and no one is happy with it.

A recent story in the International Business Times revealed the backlog of new and reopened disability claims stands at 711,775 (it was over a million this spring) and there are 266,179 cases on appeal, with a wait that could be up to five years. So put me down as one who firmly believes we should make some big changes for the men and women who have defended our country.

I think a quick answer might be to give every veteran a Medicare plan where they could see the doctors of their choice, use local hospitals if necessary, and have access to get prescriptions at local pharmacies. I have a number of friends who must go to Murfreesboro or Nashville for treatments and services that could be done easier, faster, and more economically in Chattanooga.

I believe we could do away with the huge facilities and myriad of networks by allowing veterans to have a choice over their healthcare providers. While I am certainly no expert on the VA, or the outdated promises that have been made to our soldiers, it is pretty obvious that if we are spending $150 billion every year for 7 million people, we the taxpayers have a huge problem.

Jamie Reno, a reporter for the IBTimes, wrote, “In just the past year, we've learned about at least 21 preventable deaths of military veterans at VA facilities across the nation as well as the spread of infectious diseases at these hospitals and clinics. In addition, there is evidence of bonuses awarded to executives at troubled VA hospitals and a lengthy ongoing disability claims backlog.”

Congressman Jeff Miller (R-Fl.) is the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and he is clearly irked that Congress has set 111 requests for information to the VA and still doesn’t have the answers it needs.

“It’s become apparent to me and many others that there is a culture of complacency among the agency’s middle management,” he told the IBTimes writer. “These mid-level managers know that as federal employees there is a good chance they’ll have their position longer than I will be chairman of oversight, and longer than the VA secretary will have his job. They’re evidently willing to just wait out those of us who are trying to change things, and unfortunately the consequences are as serious as life and death for our veterans.”

Miller also told the IBTimes, “When I see these deaths occur at VA medical centers that were preventable and people associated with that center getting a bonus, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that lower-level employees are watching all this and feel as if they don’t have to be transparent either. It is an embedded culture."

A recent CNN report told of a VA medical center in Columbia, S.C., where six veterans died after waiting months for tests and treatment. Five more died the same way in Pittsburgh. There were four avoidable deaths in Atlanta, and three in Memphis. Of those in Tennessee, one was from a lethal dose of painkiller, another because the staff did not administer the correct drugs, and the third from a drug allergy that had been noted in the files.

“As we dig through the medical centers, we find that a number of deaths could have easily been prevented; it’s inexcusable,” said the Congressman and he is right; our veterans should not be trapped in a broken system but should instead be able to get health care of their choice. Our Department of Veterans Affairs should get out of the healthcare industry.

A Medicare card seems like an easy fix but with 70 percent of California doctors just refusing to take part in the state’s Obamacare health insurance exchange, perhaps there is a better alternative. Just know this, our veterans health system is just as big a mess.

royexum@aol.com 



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