VA’s problems necessitate elimination, not restructuring

| Staff Writer

It’s a harsh reality that in war, many of our soldiers end up making the ultimate sacrifice. Yet, even those who are able to come home are not given the proper resources to deal with the wounds, both mental and physical, that occurred while they were serving overseas. We should provide our veterans with top-notch medical care, but the current Veterans Affairs system provides them paltry service at best.

Even with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shineski’s resignation last year, the problems of the VA have yet to be fixed because the problems are institutional, not managerial. Properly taking care of veterans requires not just reforming the system, but getting rid of it entirely. One option is to give states federal funding and let them manage individual VA hospitals, but it makes more sense to simply give veterans money to purchase private health care, giving them access to the top-of-the-line medical care that they have more than earned.

Soldiers are told to “leave no one behind,” but the VA leaves countless veterans behind. Once out of uniform, soldiers need our help healing, but roughly one million veterans are still waiting for VA to handle disability claims. The 23-page application form for disability benefit claims isn’t making the process any simpler. Since 2003, there have been 400,000 claims from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans alone, while there is an average wait of six months to receive an initial answer on a disability claim.

I know firsthand from my father that the VA’s problems today are nothing new. When he worked as a surgical resident at the Veteran Affairs Hospital in Manhattan, N.Y. in 1994, he witnessed long procedure wait times that could have been easily alleviated. The VA hospitals are so inefficient they make the DMV look like an assembly line and have done so for the past 20 years.

When my father worked there, he and other doctors thought they would be able to reduce wait times for veterans with the help of 12 brand new operating rooms, but that was hardly the case. Only six of the operating rooms were allowed to be in use and when they were, ran only for a meager six hours a day. Although there was no shortage of doctors, the VA neglected veterans they could have helped far sooner. These problems exist throughout the country today. The massive health-care system for 8.7 million veterans is miserably failing them because there is zero accountability.

Wait problems aren’t the only thing plaguing the VA. According to Jan R. Frye, deputy assistant secretary for Acquisition and Logistics, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been wasting taxpayer money and putting veterans at risk. The VA didn’t engage in competitive bidding or sign contracts with outside hospital and health-care providers that offer medical care for veterans that the agency cannot provide, such as specialized tests and surgeries and other procedures. Veterans need these services, but the mismanagement rampant through the VA prevents them from receiving them.

The system might have even lead to preventable deaths. In 2011, six veterans died from an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease at the VA hospital. Apparently, hospital officials knew about the outbreak for more than a year before informing patients. According to CBS News, high-ranking officials also knew that human error was likely behind the outbreak, and not defective equipment as was claimed before Congress. A veteran shouldn’t be treated with such blatant disregard.

Throwing more money and people at the problem isn’t fixing it. Since 2007, thousands of new employees have been hired and the government has granted the institution large budget increases, but problems still exist. According to the VA inspector general, nearly 25 percent of claims have an error. The VA covers 150 hospitals and more than 800 outpatient clinics, making such errors in one of the largest health-care systems in the country unacceptable.

The care we are providing for our veterans is absolutely reprehensible. Our veterans deserve nothing less than the best medical care available. They fought for us, and we should fight for them when they return. That fight starts with ending the VA and giving veterans the means to purchase private health insurance. It’s the least we can do.

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