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VA can still turn things around for better care

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One thing virtually all Americans would agree upon is that the men and women who have served our nation in uniform deserve the highest level of respect for their service and sacrifice.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs appears to have lost sight of that fact. Over the last several months, it’s become alarmingly clear that the VA has strayed from its mission of service to veterans.

It’s time for the department to come clean about its record of dysfunction and corruption and embrace reform.

A recent audit of wait times for health care services at VA facilities reveals the startling facts. The audit found that more than 100,000 veterans nationwide have experienced long wait times, with more than 57,000 having waited more than 90 days for an initial appointment.

Here in New Mexico, the audit found that more than 1,000 veterans had waited more than three months for their initial appointments.

But it gets worse. A whistle-blower doctor has also charged that officials at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque falsified records to make it appear that reported wait times were shorter than they were in reality – and then moved to destroy those records when the scandal became public.

Another Albuquerque VA doctor reports that patients with heart problems wait an average of four months for an appointment with a cardiologist. The long wait occurred in spite of the fact that the Albuquerque VA employs eight cardiologists, who see an average of fewer than two patients per day.

According to one news analysis, that means the Albuquerque VA cardiology department sees about 36 patients per week – the same number a private cardiologist would see in two days.

Does the VA’s mismanagement have an effect on veterans’ health and well-being? Almost certainly, although it remains unclear how many veterans have suffered or even died from delayed care. (One reported estimate finds that 21 veterans in the Albuquerque area died in recent years while waiting for an appointment, though it’s uncertain as to whether delayed care played in a role in those deaths.)

The department’s systemic problems stretch far beyond New Mexico, of course, which is why Congress has finally moved to pass long-needed reforms that will bring greater accountability, transparency and patient choice to VA.

As veterans, we should thank our representatives in Congress who have supported these reform measures.

But we shouldn’t wait for Washington to take action. After all, the VA’s problems didn’t arise overnight, and they won’t be fixed quickly. New Mexico’s military veterans, along with our families and supporters, should be banding together to continue pressing for the change we expect.

Tonight, Concerned Veterans for America will host a special meeting from 5-8 p.m. at Albuquerque’s Duke City Harley, 8603 Lomas NE to gather additional input from veterans and taxpayers on the need to fix the VA. The goal: to keep up the pressure for real reform to restore the VA to its mission of serving the needs of veterans, not bureaucrats.

All Albuquerque area military veterans are invited to attend to find out how you can be part of the solution.

And you don’t have to be a veteran to take part and show your support; if you’re a friend or family member of a veteran or active duty service member, or if you just want to show your support, all are welcome.

As bad as things have gotten at the VA, it is still possible for the department to turn things around by embracing an ethic of service to veterans, greater choice and flexibility for patients, and accountability for VA employees.

There are hundreds of hard-working professionals at the Albuquerque VA that are dedicated to the veterans, many of whom are veterans themselves, working inside a broken and disorganized system. Just as we strive to fix the systemic problems inherent in the system, we must also recognize those members of the VA health care system that work hard to overcome these inexcusable issues always striving to do things right and go the extra mile for my fellow veterans.

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