- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

Scottsbluff Star-Herald. June 12, 2014.

Veterans: The men and women who serve our country deserve better

You should be able to judge a country by how well or how poorly it treats the men and women who risk their lives to defend it. Last Tuesday, the House of Representatives took steps to correct a major systemic problem, voting to allow patients enduring long waits for care at Veterans Affairs facilities to get VA-paid treatment from local doctors.

The 426-0 final vote sent a strong message that the House was unwilling to tolerate the book cooking at the VA. And there is also another bill addressing the same issue.

The separate Senate bill introduced this week includes several provisions not offered in the House measure to help the VHA keep up with demand. It would allow the agency to lease 26 new facilities for health care and dedicate $500 million toward hiring new VA medical staff.

The VA, the country’s largest health care provider, serves almost 9 million veterans. The House bill would let veterans facing delayed appointments or living more than 40 miles from a VA facility to choose to get care from non-agency providers for the next two years.

More than 3,000 veterans live in Scotts Bluff County alone. They typically use one of three VA hospitals in the region - Cheyenne, Hot Springs or Fort Meade. It takes 100 miles to drive to Cheyenne and 150 to Hot Springs. For our older vets, this can be a major obstacle. For example, the hospital in Hot Springs no longer offers colonoscopies so veterans have to go to Fort Meade, which is 227 miles from here. That’s a long drive home for an aging vet, three hours or more in the car, after having that procedure.

On top of that, the already beleaguered hospital in Cheyenne might soon be the only nearby option. A proposal to close the Hot Springs facility is pending approval following a public comment period.

The Senate bill is a response to an outcry over veterans’ health care following allegations that surfaced in April that as many as 40 veterans may have died while waiting an average 115 days for appointments at the Phoenix VA hospital or its walk-in clinics. This is an outrage.

The Associated Press reported that the average wait time for new patients seeking a primary care doctor at the VA Center in Cheyenne is more than 32 days - more than twice the limit the Department of Veterans Affairs had set as a goal, according to a report released Monday by the agency. There’s no reason our vets should have to wait that long to get care. They should be able to get it close to home and get it immediately.

On Monday, the VA released an internal audit showing more than 57,000 new patients had to wait at least three months for initial appointments. It also found that over the past decade, nearly 64,000 newly enrolled veterans requesting appointments never got them, though it was unclear how many still wanted VA care.

By many accounts, this has been going on for years. Our government leaders should be deeply ashamed of how they have treated our servicemen and women. They deserve better.

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Lincoln Journal Star. June 15, 2014.

Sloppy way to run government

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