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VA wait-time debacle a national disgrace

May 28, 2014
Lehigh Acres Citizen

On Monday, we, as a nation, again paused to remember the men and women Memorial Day is intended to honor - the members of our armed forces who died in service to their country.

Flags flew at half staff until noon, flowers and flags decorated grave sites and there were parades and services.

This is all to the good.

Memorial Day is a cherished tradition, one always marked here in veteran-heavy Lee County with strong attendance at services held annually.

But this year, Memorial Day also dawned in the midst of a national shame that includes the additional, needless deaths of veterans who died in the "friendly fire" of bureaucratic ineptitude and cover-up.

Let us also remember these men and women, including many World War II vets, who were denied access to the health care they were promised while Veterans Administration officials manipulated and falsified wait- time information related to the lack of timely care.

With 40 deaths thus far attributed to "death by delay" in Phoenix and a Dayton Daily News investigation reporting the systemwide tally may be as high as 1,100 from 2001 through the first half of last year, the number of VA facilities under investigation is now up to 26.

It is important to note that this is not a new issue nor were unacceptable wait times unknown within either the VA or the president's administration.

As the Seattle Times reports, the manipulation of wait-time data has been known since 2008. The Times also reports the falsification process actually caught a buzz phrase - "gaming strategies" - in 2010 and investigations confirmed again in 2012 that wait-time information that showed acceptable access to care was "unreliable."

Staff-level employees are on record as saying they were told to falsify records and were threatened with "repercussions" if they did not.

It is only now, May of 2014, that we have our commander-in-chief saying he's "madder than hell" and promising punishment for those responsible.

Yet at press time Eric Shinseki still held his job in the wake of what is euphemistically being called "systemic troubles."

Systemic troubles?

With both a body count and increasing reports of pain and suffering on the VA battlefield of neglect, you think?

Now, we do understand that the VA health system of some 1,700 hospitals and clinics is, at its heart, a solid and viable system that has done much good among the 80 million outpatients it serves.

We acknowledge reports that say its patient care rating among those who use the system is good, better than many private systems, and that this is due to the doctors, nurses and other care workers who provide hands-on treatment.

But to use President Obama's own words, we - and, we trust, most Americans - are "madder than hell" that treatment delays and the related records cover-up has been tolerated for so long and that veterans have died or suffered as a result.

It's a national disgrace.

- Citizen editorial



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