Veterans deserve better than V.A.’s been giving
Alan Stewart, Staff Writer
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.
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.
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.