Aug 26, 2014

We Need a Long-Term Solution for the VA

President Obama will address the American Legion today in what the AP describes as the “latest administration response to the health care lapses that led to the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki in May.” Earlier this month, the President signed the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 into law, which was a step in the right direction to fixing an agency that has become the poster child for ineffective bureaucracy.”

But to be sure, there is a long way to go until we see cultural and operational reform within the VA, and Americans expect more than bill-signings and speeches to achieve it.

As Jeff Brown, executive director of the American Legion, said, “We don’t want them to see this as a solution. We’d like to hear a long-term plan, a long-term commitment from the president.”

In fact, a recently released IG report shows there are still 1,800 veterans in Phoenix who requested appointments but will have to wait at least 90 days for care. The President has a great opportunity here to work with Congress and enact long-term solutions for the VA’s problems.

Majority Leader McCarthy recently outlined in an editorial for the USA Today what is needed for the VA to move out of its old bureaucratic past and into the 21st Century:

“In an age of instant communication and data clouds, the VA uses a scheduling program, VistA, which is over a quarter-century old. We can track packages in real time, cash checks, and look up traffic all from our phones, but the VA is stuck in the old-tech, slow, and opaque system of yesteryear.

“First and foremost, we must modernize the VA and transform it from a slow and unaccountable bureaucracy to a transparent, efficient, and accountable institution.

“We must fix the paper disability claims system and end the claims backlog that leaves so many disabled veterans uncompensated. … Though the House passed our proposal last year, the Senate has yet to consider it, and all the while our disabled veterans continue to wait.

“Veterans facing extreme wait times or who live far from VA facilities should have the ability to choose to access private care covered by the VA. This is a key aspect of a separate proposal by Rep. Miller called the Veterans Access to Care Act.

“We have to stop unnecessary and harmful job protection for VA employees who have blatantly failed our veterans. In the private sector, employees who hide bad statistics and cover up abuses are promptly fired. To date, not a single VA employee has been fired because of the scandal. That is unconscionable and immoral.

“Real reform is possible, but only if we unshackle ourselves from the old idea that more bureaucracy, more government, and more money will solve today’s problems.” 

Read the full Op-Ed, “Our veterans deserve a modern VA,” here.