The State of Veteran Care Is a Disgrace

 

Nico Hemsley Justice Is Served nahemsley@ucsd.edu
Nico Hemsley
Justice Is Served
[email protected]

Veterans Affairs Deputy Inspector General Richard Griffin released a preliminary report in the wake of Memorial Day that confirmed allegations of misconduct at VA hospitals. According to the report, hospital staff covered up long wait times and cooked the books at the expense of their patients in order to excel in performance reviews. Employees were instructed to enter false patient data and were reportedly threatened if they didn’t alter data to favor their supervisors. Patients were booked at non-existent clinics or put on unofficial waiting lists to improve clinic availability data, putting veterans with serious conditions at risk and reportedly causing deaths because patients were not seen in time. The dishonesty within the current VA system is completely disgraceful and does not show the proper respect for veterans and their sacrifices.

Griffin reports that the problem is systemic throughout the VA health care system. In Phoenix, veterans were forced to wait an average of 115 days before their first medical appointment, which is five times longer than what was reported by the hospital. Furthermore, 1,700 veterans waiting for medical care never appeared on any official waiting list and may never have received treatment.

There are two reasons for the poor quality of service: a shortage of primary-care physicians and the high number of veterans and service members from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. According to VA department statistics, in the last three years primary-care appointments have soared by 50 percent while the number of primary-care doctors has grown by only 9 percent. Each of those doctors treats 60 percent more patients than they should be responsible for, said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees. This is because the department is spending too much money hiring administrators and not enough on doctors and nurses. Cox also mentions a culture of fear at VA hospitals that prevents whistleblowers from reporting dishonest actions.

The current state of VA hospitals warrants nationwide changes, which are difficult to implement because of the lack of a standardized organization among medical centers. Traditionally, VA hospitals have followed the motto: “All health care is local,” but this results in confusion over the local implementation of actions required by national directives, such as the tracking and trending of patient complaints.

Moving forward, a key political question is whether the VA system should expand or move toward privatization to cope with physician shortages and crippling wait times compounded by several thousands of service members’ return from Iraq and Afghanistan. While some believe that veterans should be sent to private physicians if they wait for more than 30 days for care, others want to increase funding, create new VA facilities and draw more physicians to VA hospitals by offering loan forgiveness programs to medical students.

Regardless of specific reform, we are all hoping that policymakers can unite around caring for our veterans and that these events will draw attention to the crisis of primary care throughout our healthcare system.