Go to Google and type “VA issues.” You’ll find the list of results seems to go on forever. The reports vary, ranging from how the VA is broken to scathing commentaries on the tragic national healthcare epidemic now facing the brave men and women who put their lives on the line, standing at the door of our shores to defend against those who aim to annihilate our way of life. Among all of the political double talk and empty promises, our courageous military veterans stand in the wings, awaiting the care they were promised when asked to sign over their lives and liberties on the dotted line.
Earlier this month, an article published by USA Today reported that VA supervisors instructed their employees to falsify wait times experienced by veteran patients in more than a dozen facilities. This widespread manipulation went back as far as a decade, and was done in the vain hope of ensuring the VA met their performance measures as they related to shorter patient wait times. These manipulations had dire consequences; some of the patients died as a result.
After the release of this report, VA executives have implemented plans to curb and eliminate such activities and purportedly initiated disciplinary actions, to include the firing of three individuals associated with these issues. However, some say this manipulation still continues. Shea Wilkins, who heads a group of 40 veterans from across more than a dozen states, says many within the VA are terrified to come forward and report abuses, as they need their jobs. Sadly, this isn’t the first time this has become an issue. Back in 2005, at the height of the Global War on Terror, the inspector general found evidence that the waiting lists for appointments topped 10,000, and the VA solution was to “retrain schedulers and supervisors.” Under this new initiative, they required them to use tactics to meet agency performance targets or undergo new training once again.
However you interpret the above, which seems a bit convoluted, here is a statistic that may be a bit more clear: “More than 480,000 veterans were waiting more than 30 days for an appointment as of March 15, public VA data shows.” That would never fly in the civilian sector, so why should it be acceptable for those who sacrificed not just their bodies, but their minds and their families so the rest of the 99 percent could sleep peacefully in their beds?
What is the solution? I have heard many, but one stands at the forefront in my mind, though perhaps it may not be welcomed by many. Why have two healthcare infrastructures in a nation barely able to afford one? Why not dismantle the VA entirely, over the course of many years to avoid lapses in care, and fully transition to the civilian sector? We already have an extensive network of healthcare outlets, medical providers, administrators, and so on. In fact, the VA seems a bit of a redundant system. Before you finish that hate mail you have begun, hear me out.
During our enlistment, we were covered under Tricare. When military facilities were unable to provide the care we needed, we were given referrals to the civilian facilities that could provide such care, and at a discounted price. Why not create a veteran-styled/veterans-only healthcare system that allows veterans (and their families, if qualified) to use their local doctors and facilities instead of floundering unnecessarily in the overburdened VA healthcare system?
Moreover, the ever-rising costs would be significantly reduced, as the VA hospitals will be eliminated and their equipment sold off or transferred. Likewise, the buildings and campuses could be refitted, renovated, and appropriated so they might serve a more efficiently the growing veteran communities and the American public.
Most importantly, the veterans could have healthcare within their own communities, near their homes, and be provided with the very cutting edge of medical advances. This could very well save their lives, which has unfathomable benefits to their families and loved ones.
As this nation finds itself past the dawn of a new millennium, our leaders continue to embrace the power of technology and change to further their war-making abilities, always preparing for the next global conflict. But we have grossly overlooked the responsibility we all carry as citizens.
At the start of this great nation, there was a responsibility handed down by our great forefather, General Washington. He said, “A nation is judged by how well it treats its veterans.” Now I ask you, how will we be judged?