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Issue of October 15, 2014
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Veterans deserve better than V.A.'s been giving

My Opinion

June 04, 2014 | 10:56 AM

The recent furor over delayed care at Veteran Administration hospitals ultimately brought on the resignation of the organization's secretary, Eric Shinseki, last week.

But we have to wonder if losing the top man will really change much of anything, especially given the scope of the problems at the V.A., which has 1,700 health facilities nationwide, including 150 hospitals and more than 800 clinics.

Question of the Week
If you're a veteran, have you experienced any delays in receiving health care through a Veterans Administration facility?
A military officer with an honorable record of service, Shinseki was on the job since January 2009, and surely he saw the 18 reports since 2005 that told of long waiting times for patients.

Apparently not.

Last week, the V.A.'s acting inspector general, Richard J. Griffin, said in a report that top officials at the V.A. hospital in Phoenix "cooked the books" and kept approximately 1,700 veterans off the official waiting list to meet a 14-day appointment goal. By doing this, the report says, officials could qualify for pay raises, bonuses and promotions by meeting a wait-time goal of 14 days (down three years ago from the 30-day goal).

The interim report confirmed allegations of excessive waiting time for care in Phoenix, with an average 115-day wait for a first appointment for those on the waiting list, that's 91 days longer than the 24-day average the hospital had reported.

The report also said that more than 10 percent of employees interviewed said they were instructed to falsify wait-time records; some were told to enter incorrect scheduling information into computers and others said they kept separate (and unauthorized) paper lists.

The most damning statistic is that the V.A. has acknowledged 23 deaths nationwide due to delayed health care.

It's completely inexcusable and absolutely unacceptable.

At face value, the buck ultimately stops with Shinseki, and he was right to resign. Others who should resign include top officials and anyone else at Phoenix or elsewhere found to have delayed veterans' health care one second longer than absolutely necessary.

And, if we want to be honest with ourselves, even President Barack Obama should shoulder a little of the blame. As far back as 2007 and as recently as last year, Obama said he would try to shorten wait times for veterans seeking care through the V.A. Proving the problem isn't a Democratic issue, President George W. Bush also was advised of V.A. backlogs at the start of his second term in office yet did little to alleviate wait times.

What the V.A. needs isn't a single-bomb strike to regain credibility and accountability with its patients. It needs a calculated, sustained battle to right the ship and give veterans what they deserve, which is far more than what the V.A. seems to have provided.

Twitter: @_alanstewart

  1. print email
    June 05, 2014 | 01:24 PM

    The waiting list to see a Doctor at the VA is NOT new!!! After my dad got enrolled with the VA it was about 8 months until he could be see by the first doctor. Then about 5 years ago, my husband enrolled with the VA and it was about 6-8 months before he be seen by the doctor.
    My husband was told that he could not go to the VA hospital until he had his first appointment. THIS WAS A LIE!!!! He could have gone to the VA hospital at any time.

    the VA system needs a complete overhall.....from the top down!
    Also patients should get to have (for example) 1 kidney doctor....not see a different doctor everytime they go for an appointment.

  2. print email
    June 05, 2014 | 04:09 PM

    I have had no problems with the VA... I've asked for & received special appointments within a reasonable amount of time, 2 times in the last 10-years... However, when I lived in Florida, it was another story... I think the problem with the VA in FL & AZ is that there are not enough doctors to see all the patients... and who's to blame for that? Our Congress.

    ray wilson
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    June 06, 2014 | 11:33 AM

    As a veteran and former VA employee, I have seen the Louisville VA maintain secret waiting lists. I informed supervisors of one employee who had noted that she scheduled veterans to be seen, when in reality she did not make appointments for them. It was all brushed under the rug so the Director of the Louisville VA didn't find out. This would have ended the supervisors bonus they got each year. When scheduling appointments, we were told by supervisors to nudge the veteran to accept an appointment outside the 30 day window, then note it as the veteran requested to be scheduled that far out. It's true, they do not have enough doctors or technicians to see all the patients in the 30 day time limit. That should be a focus for all VA facilities!

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