By Candice Miller – 5/30/2014
This year on Memorial Day we once again gave thanks to those who, since the earliest days of our republic, sacrificed their lives to preserve the freedom of a nation.
As we should. They deserve our gratitude, and much more.
At the very least, their sacrifice should serve to remind us we have a solemn duty to redeem the promises we make to the men and women who risk their lives in armed service on our behalf.
Among the most fundamental of those promises is access to high-quality medical care for service-related injury and illness.
That commitment should be both unquestioned and unequivocal. But as recent revelations about medical care (or the lack thereof) provided at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the country have shown, it is anything but.
For months now, investigations by Congress, media organizations and government overseers have revealed what appears to be a pattern of incompetence, neglect and cover-up at the VA. Veterans have died waiting for treatment; whistleblowers have been ignored or silenced; federal bureaucrats have even been rewarded with bonuses for allegedly producing bogus reports on the reduction of waiting lists for treatment at VA hospitals.
It didn’t have to come to this.
Problems at the VA, the second largest bureaucracy in the federal government, have been persistent for decades. As have calls for reform.
A year ago, U. S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, asked the Obama administration to investigate what he called “an alarming pattern of serious and significant patient care issues” at the VA. Issues he described as “long-standing, systemic, and apparently immune to the current structure of accountability within VA,” problems that required the personal attention of the president.
In the wake of the most recent revelations, the president said last week he will wait for the results of an investigation to “get to the bottom of what happened.”
The situation at the VA and the administration’s belated response to it are a disgrace. Our veterans deserve better.
As is always the case when a government program fails to live up to expectations, some have suggested VA failings are attributable to a lack of funding. A careful review of the facts suggests otherwise.
Since 2001, funding for the VA has tripled, including a 40 percent increase in the last three years. In recent years, Congress has consistently provided funding at the level requested by the administration. In fact, in several of those years as much as $1.6 billion in congressionally-approved funding for medical care went unspent.
The VA doesn’t have a money problem; it has a management and data manipulation problem.
This past week, the House approved bipartisan legislation giving the Secretary of Veterans Affairs the authority to dismiss or re-assign senior managers with records of poor performance.
An important step, but one that should not have been necessary.
I know that many of those who serve in the VA are sincerely committed to providing first class treatment to our veterans. But the undeniable lesson from the scandalous failure to live up to that commitment is that massive federal bureaucracies, by their nature, promise more than they can deliver.
Veterans should not be waiting for an appointment at a VA facility 80 miles away when first-rate care is available where they live. Systemic changes which would allow veterans to use their benefits at private, local health care facilities could improve treatment and increase efficiency.
In fact, it is time we looked more broadly at how veterans health care could be delivered more effectively outside the sprawling VA bureaucracy. High quality health care remains available in the U.S.; we need to make sure veterans get it.
Candice S. Miller is the U.S. Representative for Michigan’s 10th congressional district.