Doing What is Right: Fixing the VA Scandal

Chicago Area Hines Veterans Hospital Sited In Mass VA ScandalI come from a family with a long military background; on my father’s side of the family, my grandfather served in the army and my uncle was also a member of the military and served in Desert Storm. On my mothers side two of my uncles are former Marines, and another served in the United States Navy. I also have friends that are currently serving in the Army and the Marines; due to this I became extreme invested in the corruption that was going on within the Veteran Affairs (VA) department. From the information that I have collected I believe that the right steps are being taken to fix the VA scandal.

As blogger Brian Joyce of the Huffington Post notes, problems within VA department are not a new issues at all. Veterans have had problems getting the medical attention that they need for years, there  have been movies about it — Born on the Fourth of July starring Tom Cruise. However, although these problems have been present for years it was not until now that the mass public has demanded something be done.

The catalyst for this immediate action was the deaths of about a dozen veterans who passed away before being able to see a doctor, due to being put on long waiting list. Side last spring, VA hospitals have been exposed for falsifying records.  What many are being found guilty of doing is being called “cooking the books”. What this means is that when a veteran came or called in to request a date for an appointment, they would be told that the appointment time they wanted was unavailable. After that, they would be given the choice for a later appointment date. The clerk would then falsify the record by saying the patient requested the later date to begin with, which would bring the wait time to zero , even if it would actually be days and sometimes months later than originally requested. It is estimated that nationwide about 57,000 veterans waited over 90 days before being able to see a doctor. It has been found that some people that are still on the appointment waiting list have already passed away; however, the records do not reflect that because they are so backlogged.

On Thursday August 7, 2014 the president signed the bipartisan VA Reform bill that was agreed upon in congress. This new bill allows for 16.3 billon dollars to be used to improve VA hospitals. CS Monitor reports that 5 billion dollars will be used to hire more doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals so that more veterans can be seen in a timely matter. 1.3 billion dollars will be used to build 27 new VA clinics across the country. The new bill also supplies veterans with a card that they can use to get treatment at civilians hospitals if they live further than 40 miles away from a VA hospital. It also provides funds for veterans that wish to seek medical attention from a private doctor if his or her appointment time will exceed 30 days.  Expansions in survivor benefits and educational opportunities are also byproducts of the new bill. President Obama has also appointed Robert McDonald to fulfill the duty as the new Secretary of the VA. As part of his new role, McDonald has the authority to relieve top officials in which he believes have handled taking care of veterans very poorly and those who participated in falsifying records. ABC news quoted Obama as saying, “If you engage in an unethical practice, if you cover up a serious problem, you should be fired.  Period.  It shouldn’t be that difficult”. Investigations are also underway to get to the root of the problem and hold people responsible for their actions. In a news report Obama was quoted as saying “I want to be clear about something: This will not and cannot be the end of our effort”. He added, “[w]e’ve held people accountable for misconduct. Some have already been relieved of their duties…”. This makes it clear that the job does not end with this bill, but it is just part of what needs to be done to fix the VA.

These investigations counter act the concerns that the actions taken would only throw money at the situation for a quick fix. The daughter of Navy veteran Thomas Breen, watched as her father passed away in November 2013 while waiting for care. Due to the extremely faulted system, a month after his death the VA called to inform her that they had an appointment set. In her interview with CNN she said that 16 billion dollars was not enough to fix the problem. She felt that people had to be held responsible for the deaths of veterans on the waiting list. Although the money cannot make up for the neglect that caused her father’s death, finding the people responsible for the broken system may bring him justice, and also as previously stated, investigations are already under way. The 16 billion dollars was only one step in solving the problem, holding people accountable is the next.

Some people that feel like Obama did not make the right choices also state that it is because of the bill itself. Betsy McCaughey of the New York Post writes that she feels as though it is just a quick fix that will not work in the long run. Her article also proposed that the forty mile distance policy will be hard to prove. Also that even though the bill has made it possible to see civilian doctors, only being able to see them for the allotted 60 days is an inconvenience to the veterans. McCaughey compares it to a bill last year that did nothing but further damage the VA system by making vets go through too many bureaucratic obstacles before receiving care.  Her main argument is that this bill was a rushed job just to get something signed before congress took an August recess.

These are all good reasons to be concerned however; they do not prove that they are the wrong decisions. Being able to see a private doctor is an improvement to the system, so it should not be shunned automatically. Obama has been reported as saying that this bipartisan bill is not perfect but it does cover a lot of ground and provides improvements that will take time to see. Within the next two years the new building are scheduled to be done which will make access to VA hospitals and clinics more accessible, alleviating the need for the 40 mile rule.  One man has told an interviewer at GPB that he has already begun to see a difference in the quality of care that is being given to his veteran father in Atlanta. Signing the bill into action was the right step because improvements needed to be made immediately

One problem that some people have with the changes Obama has made is the man he hired to be the new Secretary of Veteran Affairs. This man is Robert McDonald, former CEO of Procter & Gamble. The concerns that have been expressed are that McDonald is not qualified for the job. One veteran said that someone with a medical and greater military background should have been chosen.

While McDonald has no experience in Veteran Affairs he did graduate in the top 2 percent of his class at WestPoint, once of the most distinguished military colleges. As far as the concerns about his lack of military experience, I don’t believe that should be a concern. Robert McDonald served for five years in the Army and was an Airborne Ranger.  Within those five years McDonald got qualifications as a senior parachutist, expert in infantry, and trained in arctic and desert warfare. He also has family members that are veterans that are still being treated by the VA for multiple reasons.  Business wise, McDonald is more than qualified, with a degree in economics and being a successful CEO of a company which was responsible for about 9,000 employees. In an article by the Boston Herald, the national commander of National Disabled American Veterans, Joseph Johnston, fully supports the hiring of McDonald and is excited to work with him. He says that McDonald has a clear agenda, something that is needed to get the VA back on track.

Thus I believe the right changes have been made to fix the VA scandal. The change in staff and policy, along with investigations to find the people who created false files and hold them responsible was the right thing to do. I am not arguing that the system is airtight or perfect in any way. I am also not stating that the changes made have fixed all the problems that our veterans are faced with when trying to receive medical care. There is room for growth and improvement within the bill and there are things that McDonald will only be able to learn on the job. But in time, the system will begin to do what it was intended to do; which is to take care of the men and women that honorably served our country.

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