The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

June 2, 2014

Stuck in limbo

VA waiting time scandal an unacceptable problem

ENID, Okla. — The situation involving Veterans Affairs and the care of this country’s veterans is not acceptable.

And the scandal already has cost Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki his job. He resigned last week.

The VA health care system provides medical care to about 6.5 million veterans each year. Or, it’s supposed to.

Unfortunately, it appears that is not the case. An internal VA investigation uncovered problems throughout the system, and showed that at the Phoenix VA hospital, some 1,700 veterans were stuck in limbo because they were never added to the official wait list, thus never received the treatment they needed. There also are accusations that VA employees kept a secret waiting list in Phoenix and that up to 40 patients may have died while awaiting care.

The average wait time for a first appointment at the Phoenix facility is 115 days, according to the investigator, although the hospital had reported on a 24-day average wait.

One problem with the system is VA guidelines say veterans should be seen within 14 days of their desired appointment, and employee bonuses and pay raises are tied to that time frame. So, employees cook the books to make it look like they are meeting the goal in order to collect bonuses.

The amount of time veterans are waiting for care is outrageous and can’t continue. The plan to tie bonuses to appointments needs to be ended.

And, the lack of candor and transparency on the part of VA officials can’t continue.

Eric Shinseki’s resignation is only the first step. The issues raised need to be corrected, and this needs to be a priority, from lawmakers on both parties.

We also don’t want to see this become a political football, with Republicans and Democrats trading barbs about who is to blame. And, we don’t want to see this become an election issue.

What needs to be done is what’s right for our veterans. The problems uncovered need to be fixed.

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