Yesterday, the Vietnam Veterans for America (to which organization I belong) issued the following statement on the departure of Shinzeki:
(Washington, D.C.)—”Eric K. Shinseki has tendered his resignation as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Sloan D. Gibson, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, will serve as Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs,” said VVA National President John Rowan. “However, this change in leadership does not fix the terrible situation at VA medical centers. The need for dramatic action is still pressing and apparent.”
Said Rowan, “VVA urges the President to mobilize Reserve and National Guard units, as well as FEMA medical services, to supplement the uniformed units, to serve, for the next 30 to 90 days, as screening/triage units for all veterans currently on waiting lists at all VA Medical facilities. All veterans found to have urgent medical conditions are to be seen by a qualified VA clinician within three days of their screening. If the VA facility is unable to see the veteran within three days, the VA staff must arrange–and pay for–immediate care outside of the VA. Veterans not found in need of urgent care, who cannot be seen by the VA within 21 days, shall be assisted by VA staff to access an outside clinician under the VA fee-for-services program.”
At this point triage does seem to be the quickest way for veterans to receive service. Frankly, more than one person has commented that fixing the VA may take years. Sadly, it is doubtful that the political will to fix the VA will last beyond this November. Worse, given the gridlock in Congress, it is not probable that any significant, and clearly needed, legislative changes that would help the VA will pass. Thus, I agree with the VVA. While the iron is hot, let’s strike. Mobilize medical units, just like we would for a tornado or hurricane or a foreign tragedy, and use them to triage veterans. If this overloads the VA, which it really will, use the fee-for-services program that already exists in the VA to send out veterans to outside clinicians.
Yes, during all this time, the VA has had the legal approval to send out veterans to outside clinicians. But, because that would have made local administrators look bad, and because the VA frowned on using a tool legally given to them by Congress, the upper authorities at the VA were willing to take chances with the lives of the veterans rather than look bad. Time after time, this scandal comes down to looking bad. While some have made it about money and bonuses, I can tell you that they are not large enough to cause this much misbehavior. Rather, the loss of advancement opportunities, and the shaming that would take place if you did not meet your goals was a more important motivator.
Our veterans could have been treated under fee-for-services programs. Sadly, looking good was more important.