Congress should reform, not expand, broken VA health system

Servicemen and women who have worn our country’s uniform and bravely fought for freedom are losing their lives all too often – not at the hands of terrorists or enemy combatants, but from government medical malpractice.

This week Congress is considering a $24 billion bill that is supposed to improve care for veterans. But the bill will only enable Washington politicians to say they are helping veterans while continuing to turn a blind eye to a broken and mismanaged Veterans Administration health system.  
Sadly, due to our substandard veterans’ health care system, the risks for our brave soldiers continue long after they return home.

Here are just a few examples:

- In South Carolina, 19 veterans died prematurely because of delayed diagnoses.

- In New York, only half of 29 facilities had nurses adequate enough to perform their duties.

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    - In Georgia, more than 5,000 beneficiaries went without consultations for gastrointestinal procedures.

    - Just this week, VA employees in California were caught destroying medical records in an attempt to hide the severity of their backlog.  It’s no surprise this office had a backlog problem.

    In 2012, the VA took an average of 260 days to complete a veteran’s claim, according to the non-partisan Governmental Accountability Office.

    As a doctor who trained in VA facilities, I have seen firsthand how the federal government handles veteran health care.

    As a senator, I also know politicians in Washington either do not understand the extent to which our VA system is horrifyingly broken, or they lack the political will and courage to enact real reform.

    Congress could enact a few common sense reforms that would dramatically improve the lives of our veterans.

    First, we should allow veterans to receive care in their own communities instead of forcing them – and often their families – to travel to a VA facility.

    We also need to shine a bright light on the extent of backlog problem at the VA by instituting real reforms that increase transparency while ensuring those in charge of administering claims are serving veterans – not their unions.

    Most of all, Congress needs to work on its original promise to veterans instead of shamefully expanding an ineffective program that can’t keep up with demand.

    Over the next five years, more than one million service members who have served during the past 13 years of war will transition to civilian life.

    There is no question we need to greatly improve our efforts to meet our promises to those who put their lives on the line for our county in this current generation of veterans, and veterans of all eras.  In fact, we have a moral obligation to do so.

    But more dollars and more promises alone will not save and improve the lives of our courageous veterans who are forced to navigate an appallingly broken VA system.

    It’s time for politicians in Washington to do what our soldiers have already done – put our political lives on the line and make the hard decisions necessary to reform a system upon which so many of our veterans depend.