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VA scandal appalling and disgraceful

POSTED: June 5, 2014 6:22 p.m.

Phoenix, Ariz.:
• Possibly as many as 40 veterans who were never put on the official list for doctor’s appointments may have died while awaiting care.
• 1,700 patients not placed on the official waiting list for doctor’s appointments and possibly never having received care.
• An average 115-day waiting time for initial primary care appointments, nearly five times as long as what the hospital’s administrators had reported.

Columbia, S.C.:       
• Possibly six preventable deaths due to gastrointestinal cancer as a result of delays in endoscopy screening.

• A whistleblower — the president of a federal employee union — claims that secret lists and falsified wait times were an “everyday practice” and complaints of data fraud were ignored.

San Antonio, Texas:
• A retired doctor claims that physicians were regularly asked to alter the request date for Ultrasounds, MRIs and CT scans in order to hide long backlogs for tests.

These are just a few of the many claims that have come to light recently about the appalling and disgraceful way our country’s Veteran Affairs (VA) hospital system has been run in recent years.

As a result of this sad and embarrassing state of affairs surrounding the health care system built for our American heroes, the secretary of veteran affairs, Eric Shinseki, stepped down from his position last week.

While the resignation of Secretary Shinseki was welcomed by both Republican and Democratic leaders, the core problem with the out-of-control VA health care system remains and must be addressed immediately.

In 1930, the VA health care system consisted of 54 hospitals. It has now grown to include 152 hospitals serving eight million veterans every year.

The system also includes 800 community-based outpatient clinics and 135 nursing home care units.

While the total veteran population in the United States is over 23 million, Georgia has a total of 778,282 living in our state and 71,372 living in the First Congressional District.

Although Georgia state government has nothing to do with the VA health care system, our state has a long history of treating our veterans and their families with the upmost respect. Over the past decade, the Georgia state legislature has passed numerous laws to benefit and honor our veterans.

In 2005, the hugely successful Georgia HERO (Helping Educate Reservists and their Offspring) Scholarship was created. This grant is awarded to members of the Georgia National Guard or Reserves for the sum of $2,000 per year up to $8,000 total. The grant is also available to the children of these Guard or Reserve members.

In 2006, the Military Excused Absences Act was passed to allow students whose parent is in military service and has been called to duty for overseas deployment or is on leave from such deployment, to have five school days per school year of excused absences to visit with their parent.

This past session, in order to honor our combat wounded veterans for their service and sacrifice, Georgia was designated as a “Purple Heart State” and August 7 of every year was designated as “Purple Heart Day.” This day is set aside to honor those wounded or killed while serving in any branch of the armed services.

Our veterans are our heroes and should be treated that way. What has evolved in our VA health care system is a travesty and should be an embarrassment to all Americans.

Some have suggested that our veterans be given more access to private hospitals and clinics in an effort to improve their treatment. One senator even suggested they be given a card allowing them access to the private health care sector, a suggestion that has garnered much support.

It’s time to rethink and reevaluate the VA health care system in our country. Our veterans — our heroes — should have access to the best health care available and should be first in line for services, just as they were first in line for us.


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