USA TODAY US Edition
Veterans health care needs bold reform
A few days before Labor Day, as Americans prepared for the end of summer, we learned that 300,000 U.S. veterans might have died while waiting for health care at the Department of Veterans Affairs. These findings confirm we can no longer be content with business as usual.
As a medical student in Ann Arbor, Mich., and in Baltimore, I worked at VA hospitals. Both my internship and residency at Johns Hopkins involved actual patient care as well as supervising resident physicians attending at VA hospital facilities. I sat at the bedside of veterans and witnessed their sacrifice and their need for extraordinary care. Their anguish was my anguish.
Today, while many committed men and women toil at the VA, its performance is marred by incompetence and corruption. The astonishing findings of audits have turned out to be much worse than anyone suspected. In May of last year, Americans discovered that VA employees across the country had falsified patient appointment records, leaving veterans waiting in long or futile lines while the employees enjoyed bonuses. After the scandal, a new VA secretary, Robert McDonald, pledged to clean house, but as of February, nearly a year after the scandal came to light, only eight employees had been fired.
Meanwhile, decades of effort and billions of taxpayer dollars have been thrown at “fixing ” the VA. The results have been abysmal. The lack of integrated records management continues to defy the millions of IT dollars poured into the agency. Continui- ty of care from the Department of Defense to the VA is often non-existent. The VA system underreports malpractice and few are held accountable. Amid the system-wide ineptitude, we lose 22 veterans to suicide every day.
The VA is like the federal version of the Department of Motor Vehicles: infuriating. Except people don’t die in DMV lines.
At a minimum, the Veterans Health Administration (the part of the VA that provides health care) should be eliminated to forge a 21st century veterans health solution. Such a significant organizational change no doubt requires further study and consideration, and I will be providing more details. Meanwhile, the following improvements can and should be made immediately. Veterans deserve no less.
Choice: Including health savings accounts (HSAs), to allow access to the best possible medical care at a nearby DOD, VA or civilian medical facility.
Portability: Dollars follow the veteran.
Efficiency: Cut wait times for disability claims and medical requirements.
Specialization: Utilize military and civilian centers of excellence for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injuries and other key issues.
Coordination: Combine education, employment, life skills and continuity of health care to ensure transition to a contributing member of civilian society.
No more politics as usual, no more Washington-size excuses. We need results for our vets.