As a U.S. Army veteran of 29 years and a disabled veteran, I know first-hand where the VA has failed and succeeded. The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act was enacted in 2014 to resolve issues regarding access and accountability. Sadly, this act has not succeeded in bringing about change as intended.
There is no better example than at our own VA clinic here in El Paso. According to recent studies conducted by the Office of Veterans Affairs, the El Paso VA clinic received a score of 1 star out of 5 for a second time. This study included factors such as death, infection rates and wait times. This is unacceptable and must be fixed immediately.
First, the VA must be funded appropriately. As is typical in any medical industry, under-staffing to preserve a bottom line exists and must be eliminated. Our veterans have sacrificed life, family and friends to defend our Constitution, our country. Big government’s disregard for our soldiers is not only disrespectful, it is inexcusable and unacceptable. The battlefield standard “No Soldier Left Behind” must also be applied to the soldier’s medical care after they have fulfilled their duty of service.
The first phase is critical to complete the second.
Second, the VA must resolve all access issues. Decisions based on specific health care requirements should be a deciding factor vs issues of distance concerns or administrators who view veterans as just another customer. An oft-forgotten aspect of a veteran’s experience is the slow processing of payments and medical claims, in some cases creating credit issues that affect more than the veteran’s health. Properly staffed clinics and administration offices will resolve all access issues that currently plague the VA health care system.
Finally, accountability must be recognized within all VA institutions. Annual studies showing where the improvements and failures are taking place must be made known to the public. Without a clear standard for accountability, the VA can easily regress to lower standards. Like in private health care, the VA must have the ability to fire substandard employees and hire based on qualifications necessary for the success of a clinic.
The bottom line is clear, easily understood. Decisions on where and how to care for veterans should not be done at a political or institutional level where cost is priority-1. If Government can spend billions of dollars to send our men and women into combat for years at a time, Government can fund an equal amount to the medical care of the men and women who served. To give credit where it is due, the VA has improved services it provides to veterans with trauma and service-connected conditions such as PTSD and other psychological issues. With the drastically increasing number of veterans requiring health care, the government must invest more into the care they need.
It is time to put our veterans first and bureaucracy last. Tomorrow is too late for many who served and risked their lives for our freedom. We must leave no soldier behind!