EDITORIAL: Care for vets must meet high expectations

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How America cares for its veterans is indicative of its values as a nation. We’re confident the vast majority of citizens agree that health care for military vets through the country’s network of Veterans Affairs hospitals should meet or exceed common-sense expectations.

Unfortunately, what’s been discovered in recent weeks about the troubling wait times for new patients at VA hospitals reveals there is a disconnect between intent and reality.

To be clear, the issue involves long delays for new patients seeking appointments to primary care physicians or specialists at VA hospitals. Wait times don’t appear to be a problem for current patients.

But with new patients emerging from the past 14 years of military campaigns in the Middle East, Americans have been shocked to learn that obtaining health care through VA hospitals isn’t as easy as it should be for vets. The VA has confirmed that at least 35 veterans died while awaiting treatment in Phoenix, Ariz., although officials say they do not know whether the deaths were related to long waiting times for appointments.

The VA network is large and issues related to its management and function are complicated. There is no question, however, that something has gone very wrong. Some of it is certainly poor management. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has already resigned in wake of the revelations.

But inadequate funding of the VA for medical services likely plays a part as well. While VA administrators may not have been doing their best with available funds, we should consider the possibility that the VA is not funded well enough to deliver the service most Americans expect for their military veterans.

Area veterans who seek health care for the first time through VA facilities  may well have encountered some of the problems being exposed. If so, we share their concerns.

A recent audit of VA sites nationwide, as reported last week by the Associated Press, showed that on May 15 new patients needing to see a primary care doctor in Indianapolis waited nearly 54 days for an appointment. At Danville, Ill., the wait time was about 45 days. In the case of 273 Indiana veterans, the wait period had been more than 90 days. As Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly stated, the situation is “absolutely unacceptable.”

The VA’s problems are both serious and complex. But they can and must be overcome. A nationwide recognition of the issue is occurring as more information becomes available. And Congress is moving ahead with legislation to immediately assist those who have been denied timely health care by the VA.

That’s a start. But long-term solutions will require more aggressive and tighter management of the VA system and, if necessary, a greater allocation of funding from the federal budget.

Our view: Editorials reflect the opinions of the newspaper. This one was provided by the Terre Haute Tribune-Star.

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