Eric Shinseki’s resignation as Veterans Affairs secretary was long overdue. His successor faces a monumental task responding to the scandals that have touched veterans nationwide, including here in Western New York.
Shows just how broken the system is when a half-year wait for action on disability claims can be touted as progress. That’s still far too long. The VA must come up with some system that significantly shortens the wait. Even with all its improvement, the newest figures show that the Buffalo benefits office had the seventh-worst backlog among the VA’s 57 regional offices.
The VA’s other lapses just in Western New York are appalling. It was in this region that the improper reuse of insulin pens exposed veterans to the possibility of infection. Also last year, thousands of patient files at VA hospitals in Buffalo and Batavia were misplaced or damaged.
Administrators must be held accountable for breaking the government’s solemn promise that our warriors would be cared for properly.
The latest scandal – lengthy waits for care at VA hospitals – came to light at the facility in Phoenix. According to an investigation, records were falsified to disguise the length of time that patients had to wait for appointments. A VA report issued this week said the problems extended throughout the VA’s 1,700 health care facilities nationwide.
Besides hiring more staff to handle the backlog in disability claims, the VA also needs to devise a workable solution to the lengthy wait times facing patients. According to an article in the New York Times, one factor is the shortage of primary care doctors in VA hospitals, which threatens to put even more patients on the waiting list.
The VA can attract more doctors by paying competitive wages. It could also pay for medical training for doctors who agree to serve in VA hospitals for a certain number of years. And it could contract with private facilities to treat some veterans until the VA’s system is operating efficiently.
Once veterans manage to get through the red tape and into the system, they get excellent care and tend to be more satisfied than some of their private-patient counterparts. The widespread mismanagement at the agency’s network of medical facilities is tainting that picture.
Congress needs to be part of the solution. The aging of Vietnam veterans and the flood of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have badly strained the system. Clearly, more money needs to be allocated.
Shinseki did the right thing in getting rid of some top administrators at the VA medical center in Phoenix. He did the wrong thing in waiting so long to step down himself. Now President Obama must look for someone with extraordinary management skills to tackle this enormous and complicated system.
The nation owes its veterans quality health care and timely action on disability claims. We can accept no less.