Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Veterans deserve better medical treatment
Aug. 14, 2014 at 11:30 a.m.
The recent atrocities these honorable men and women have received from the Department of Veterans Affairs is intolerable.
In recent weeks, we have heard about the tens of thousands of military veterans nationwide who have been enduring long waits for medical care - many even dying of cancer because they waited too long for treatment.
We have heard about government paperwork lost or mixed up, causing dangerous risks for patients. Appointments dropped from the schedule. Veterans seeking outside health care and paying the costs because VA doctors are too busy. Employees falsifying data to cover up the long waiting periods of patients. And in some cases, employees receiving bonuses based on the number of falsified records.
Such treatment of our men and women in uniform is inexcusable.
In recent days, a couple of events occurred to give us hope that our nation's leaders - Republicans and Democrats - are working to improve the VA.
At the national level, members of Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed a $16.3 billion law that is expected to make sweeping changes to the VA system.
Improved access to outside care is likely to be the most immediate effect. Veterans who have waited at least a month for a medical appointment or who live at least 40 miles from a Veterans Affairs hospital or clinic will be able to see private doctors at government expense. The law devotes $10 billion for that purpose.
The law also includes $5 billion for hiring more VA doctors, nurses and other medical staff and $1.3 billion to open 27 new VA clinics across the country.
And under the new law, employment rules will be revised to make it easier to fire senior VA executives judged to be negligent or performing poorly.
At the regional level, a supporter of this bill and a representative dedicated to help military veterans is Congressman Blake Farenthold. He has taken time to meet with veterans to hear their concerns about the VA.
Farenthold said veterans are telling him they are not getting timely medical appointments scheduled, that the system loses their paperwork too often and that the process to appeal a decision about treatment takes too long - in some cases, years.
"We need to keep the promises we made to veterans," Farenthold said. We agree with the congressman.
And we are concerned about the law the same way he is concerned: That without sweeping reform, an internal housecleaning and tighter accountability, the treatment of our veterans will not improve.
Daniel Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans group, called the new law an important step to begin repairing systemic problems at the VA.
However, he said, "But it is only one step and only a beginning."
Let's not forget our veterans as the system begins to improve.
This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.