Viewpoint

Cambria vets sound off about VA scandals

June 6, 2014 

President Obama has called for change in the “culture” at VA medical facilities where for the last six years civilian officials falsified patient wait times in order to receive undeserved bonuses and promotions.

Let’s solve the immediate problem by issuing vouchers for treatment in the private sector to those veterans who can’t be treated promptly in VA facilities.

The Inspector General’s initial report cited employee incompetence and likely criminal activity. Why isn’t the FBI collecting evidence before it is shredded? Is it because prosecutions would embarrass some politicians before November elections?

We taxpayers are required to certify the accuracy of our tax returns under threat of prosecution for perjury. CEOs do likewise for corporate financial statements. Let’s require that senior executives at government agencies attest to reporting honestly before receiving performance-based bonuses and promotions.

Let’s overhaul archaic and cumbersome civil service regulations that protect those government employees who are unqualified or guilty of misconduct. Let’s terminate the minority of bad apples that spoil the image of the majority of hard workers instead of giving them a new job title or transfer down the hall.

Let’s appoint a team of experts from the private sector to determine if VA health care should be privatized, restructured, or merged into DoD’s medical system.

I asked two Past Commanders of American Legion Post No. 432 to comment on the VA health care scandal.

Greg Sanders, commander in 2011: In fairness to the VA, the quality of its health care has increased steadily over the past decade. The San Luis Obispo Clinic and Santa Maria facility are excellent, as is the Vet Center where veterans are treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other service connected mental conditions.

The problem is an archaic, cumbersome, and bureaucratic access system, in terms of both eligibility determination and medical attention once the veteran is in the system. And the latest critical report by the VA Inspector General is not an aberration.

The administration and Congress must temporarily look past possible criminal conduct and malfeasance and take immediate action to ensure that veterans who have life-threatening medical conditions get the medical attention they need. The fastest way to do that is to issue them vouchers for treatment by private sector health care providers.

Let’s hope that politics don’t get in the way of a permanent solution to this abominable situation. As a country, we must fulfill the promise to those who serve that was simply but eloquently stated by President Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address: “Let us strive on ... to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”

Brian Griffin, commander in 2014: I do not think this problem should be given our dysfunctional Congress to resolve. Gen. Eric Shinseki was a competent leader but I suggest he put too much trust in subordinates that run the VA health care system. The time has come for a no-nonsense, kick-butt VA director. The VA health care system was split up in to 22 geographic based networks known as Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs) by Dr. Kenneth Kizer back in 1994. If the director puts strong leaders in every one of those VISNs and communicated with them weekly he might make some progress.

Lying, covering up, or any other device to avoid the truth would have to be dealt with swiftly with termination. This latest fiasco or fiascos identifies a whole new category of questions to be asked. If critically ill patients can't be seen in a day or two, they have to be sent to a community doctor under fee basis. If we need more doctors than hire them. I know that hiring a doctor to work for the VA is very hard to do. The salaries are less than they can make privately although they are pretty good. In my mind the answer is holding people accountable, not protecting liars and cheats and being honest from the bottom to the top. Bonuses should go to whistle blowers that expose wrongdoing.

Hugh Scott lives in Cambria and covers American Legion Post No. 432 activities for The Cambrian.

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