- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, May 26, 2014

Veterans deserve our best care

In all our nation’s wars, more than 1.3 million men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country. It is these honored dead whom we recognize on Memorial Day.

Each of us who enjoy Monday’s holiday can honor their sacrifice by attending one of the Memorial Day ceremonies in this area or taking a moment to reflect on the dedication to service and devotion to country of our nation’s military servicemen and women - alive and dead - and remember that our freedoms come at a very high price. We are free today because many of our countrymen fought to protect our freedoms, and some people died to preserve our liberty.

Memorial Day 2014 comes at a time when news reports tell us that some of our veterans have not received the best care that we promised them when they signed up to serve in the military. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ inspector general’s office reports that 26 VA hospitals nationwide are being investigated for delaying treatments that might have contributed to veterans’ deaths. The hospitals allegedly maintained secret lists of patients in order to hide treatment delays.

So far, the scandal hasn’t affected Black Hills VA Healthcare System, although Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has cited the VA’s problems as reason to postpone the proposed realignment of the Black Hills VA that would transfer most of its veterans’ care facilities to Rapid City from Hot Springs.

The VA has begun the environmental impact statement process that is required before it can reconfigure its health care treatment facilities in the Black Hills. The analysis will take 10 to 18 months. If approved, the reconfiguration would “transition of the existing Hot Springs VA hospital into a community-based outpatient clinic” with residential rehabilitation treatment transferred to Rapid City, where a new community-based outpatient clinic would be opened.

The VA said in a release that the EIS process would allow public participation in scheduled hearings and comments and would consider “reasonable alternatives.”

We note that the Black Hills VA has already asked for reasonable alternatives, which the Save the VA group in Hot Springs presented to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki at his office in Washington more than one year ago. Save the VA has not heard a response from Shinseki, and the VA’s decision to continue with its realignment plans indicates that “reasonable alternatives” are not being taken seriously.

Given the scandal involving dozens of VA hospitals in which treatment delays were hidden because VA employees’ performance reports were more important than veterans’ care, it is reasonable to ask if the Black Hills VA realignment is being undertaken for the convenience and comfort of VA employees despite assurances it will improve veterans’ care.

We thank our congressional delegation - Sens. Thune and Tim Johnson and Rep. Kristi Noem - for their efforts to hold the Black Hills VA accountable.

On this Memorial Day, we can best honor our nation’s war dead by ensuring that their comrades in arms - our living military service veterans - receive the best care that our wealthy and free nation can provide.


Daily Leader, Madison, May 27, 2014

Views of mental health: changing for the better

If someone has a broken leg, heart disease or cancer, most of us can provide comfort and understanding to that person. If someone has a mental illness, we can’t seem to do the same.

Mental illnesses are rarely considered in the same manner as physical illnesses. Whether the mental illness is depression, anxiety, a brain injury or something else, friends and others can often be fearful or judgmental.

These reactions may come from childhood experiences where children with mental challenges were quickly separated from other students and put into different schools or classrooms. Reactions may come from the idea that mental health issues are a matter of weakness, or lack of effort or discipline.

Reactions may come from the fact that we simply don’t understand very well how the brain works. A physical ailment can be seen more readily; a mental illness seems so abstract.

Thankfully, we’re starting to see some change. First, children with both physical and mental challenges are being “mainstreamed” or part of everyday classes. Youngsters are sometimes better equipped to deal with a “different” fellow student than adults are.

Second, the medical understanding of mental illnesses is improving rapidly. From physicians to counselors to pharmacists, professionals know so much more than they did a generation ago.

Thirdly, there are many more resources to assist with mental illnesses, and we’re always impressed by the number of people they help. So many caring people in our community are helping those in need and removing the stigma that has been attached to mental illness.

We want to express appreciation for all those who help people with mental illnesses. We appreciate great results and expect further progress in understanding and treating these particular challenges.


Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, May 27, 2014

Nation must face the VA scandal

The Veterans Administration’s current health-care woes are an embarrassment and a disgrace.

They’re an embarrassment to President Barack Obama, who vowed in 2008 to take care of our veterans, but has seen that typically clarion pledge go unrealized.

It’s an embarrassment to those lawmakers, affiliated with both parties, who have given mere lip service to this issue for years. These people seem more adept at creating new veterans than helping those who have served us with their military commitment.

And it’s a disgrace for this nation, the world’s leading military power - a nation that spends more than the next 10 countries combined on defense, but struggles to provide care for our soldiers once they come home to us.

Instead, we serve up a convenient circus of damnation, calculated outrage and buck-passing the likes of which we haven’t seen since the last time veterans’ issues caught our attention, and the time before that and the time before that. There have been immediate calls for superficial change - such as demanding the firing of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, a move about which even veterans’ groups are divided - but these cries mostly put Band-Aids on the wounds of the issue rather than analyze the systemic failures and work to correct them.

The VA situation has arguably been mischaracterized. The administration currently treats an estimated 230,000 patients a day in 151 hospitals and 820 outpatient clinics, according to the New York Times. The problem generally isn’t the quality of care - which, the Times reports, is rated “from good to excellent” - but access to it.

As Time magazine pointed out in an online article, these problems with scheduling backlogs and cooked books go back several years. Indeed, Obama’s transition team was made aware of them by Bush administration officials before the current president took office. Since then, the number of veterans who have entered the VA system have surged, further exacerbating the unaddressed problems.

Obama now must show more than the anger he professes to harbor. He has been called out for being passive on this issue, and he can respond to such a charge by actually living up to his campaign rhetoric. He is deservedly taking heat, but he is also in an extraordinary position to take a desperately needed lead on this issue.

He must do so because so few lawmakers seem willing to honestly embrace the problem. Everyone in D.C. says they back the troops and support our veterans, but few have worked to address these issues, which have multiplied greatly since 2001. As the National Journal noted: “When incidents - such as the recent hospital deaths - capture public attention, lawmakers hold hearings where they berate VA officials with juicy sound bites they can later play back for their constituents. It’s good political theater, but it’s unclear that the payoff is anything other than political.”

The beleaguered VA itself is part of the problem. There have been accusations that VA officials have permitted a bureaucratic rot to fester in its ranks, and they often don’t request enough money to cover projected expenses. The National Journal noted that the VA has been slow to modernize its own systems - it didn’t start to digitally process claims until just last year, for instance - and to update its own data for projections, which has contributed to these daunting problems.

So the issues are old and festering. This president can do something about it, and should. So, too, should this Congress.

The thing is, we don’t want them to tell us what they are going to do. We’ve been hearing that for too many years.

Instead, they must show us. There have been too many broken promises and too much chest-thumping to take such vows at face value now. We need to see action. Period.

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