The U.S. military shouldn’t give someone a uniform and a job to do unless the Department of Veterans Affairs, in return, is prepared to do its job of delivering health care and other promised benefits.
That the VA is falling far short of its responsibility at least at some facilities is a shame that transcends party politics but falls hardest on President Obama, who campaigned in 2008 on a commitment to cut backlogs and upgrade care. The president’s tardy remarks last week must lead to decisive action.
The lengthy wait for VA services has “been true for decades and it’s been compounded by a decade of war,” as Obama said. And the VA system has been taxed by the volume of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, many of them survivors of severe and complicated injuries.
But the allegations being investigated by the VA inspector general’s office are serious – whether veterans were put on a secret waiting list and died while awaiting VA care in Phoenix, and whether wait times were falsified at two dozen other facilities to appear better than they were.
Members of the Kansas congressional delegation, past and present, have had a lot to say on the issue, and no wonder.
“I think it’s a disaster right now,” Bob Dole, World War II veteran and former Kansas senator, told USA Today. He called for a shake-up, though stopped short of demanding the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki at least until the results of the White House inquiry are in.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the first senator to call for Shinseki’s exit, told MSNBC on Friday: “Many veterans have lost faith, hope, in the department that was created to serve their needs.... The only way you can change the outcome of that bureaucracy is to have someone in charge who sees the problem and takes a lead.”
Moran also recommended expanding an existing program that seems like common sense: letting veterans who live far from VA facilities see local physicians and be admitted to local hospitals.
Among the fixes proposed in a National Journal report last week: that veterans be spared the burden of filling out and submitting claims forms in favor of having VA doctors handle that, and that the VA mimic private insurers in investigating only a sampling of claims. The records sharing between the Pentagon and the VA also leaves a lot to be desired, as does the VA’s transparency and self-scrutiny.
This weekend devoted to reflecting on the ultimate sacrifice made by some servicemen and women should bolster efforts to help veterans in other ways, including by doing more to address their joblessness and homelessness.
In any case, as Dole said, “You shouldn’t keep a veteran waiting three months to see a doctor.” The appalling failures of VA facilities to serve veterans – whether localized or systemic, whether due to incompetence or misconduct – must prompt big and lasting changes.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman