After A Century Of Scandals, Can The VA Be Fixed?

Photo courtesy of Beverly & Peck via Flickr

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which is responsible for providing American war veterans with benefits such as healthcare, has a history of scandals regarding basic care.

The issue has been in the making for some time, with American history is packed with VA scandals dating back to the Revolutionary War.

In 2014, a VA hospital in Phoenix AZ, was revealed by CNN to have kept a 115 day long “secret waitlist” for veterans, with 1,700 not even on the list at all.

This list was allegedly hidden from federal regulators by VA officials, who reported shorter waits to receive hospital benefits, instead of alerting the government to the real wait and at least attempting to fix it.

The scandal was so extensive, it prompted VA secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation. The American Legion reported an epidemic of mismanagement all over the country, which can be viewed in this infographic.

Why does the problem exist?

The VA scandal comes down to several core issues. One is that the department has more patients than it can handle, having gained 700,000 unique veterans in the last few years alone.

This, and a shortage in doctors leaving 400 vacancies, has created an environment lacking in proper treatment availability, especially for mental healthcare.

But it was also the Veteran Affairs’ poor policies that created perverse incentives for VA workers, prompting falsified documents.

An internal audit found that 64 percent of VA sites had tampered with patient wait times — likely because bonuses were given when desired wait times (two weeks) were obtained. Due to sheer volume, such goals have been next to impossible to attain.

Lastly, the VA has had little to no government oversight. In addition, scheduling technology is outdated, with the Pheonix VA hospital having only moved from paper to electronics in 2012.

How long has this problem existed?

This is hardly the first time American veterans have been denied or made to wait for the benefits promised to them. The issue dates all the way back to after the Revolutionary War, when only a few thousand of those that served received any compensation.

The past century is filled to the brim with scandals, including:

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart also explains the history pretty well (in comedic fashion):

Further investigations are pending, still, though a preliminary report found systematic issues in facilities nationwide.

Can it be fixed?

It may take time, but already several methods have been suggested to fix the underlying issues that have plagued the VA for so long.

These solutions include:

  • More funding: Even with a $60 billion budget, the VA lacks the resources needed to hire doctors, update scheduling technology, and create wide-scale reform.
  • Rebuilding IT: The VA’s technology is severely outdated, and will benefit from a complete reprogramming that would integrate not only VA facilities with each other, but with private and public sector sources as well as the Defense Department. This way, all systems can communicate efficiently.
  • Systematic restructuring and relocating: As veteran demographics change, so do their health issues and residency. The VA would benefit from moving its resources around intelligently to where they are needed most, and to meet specific health needs.
  • Better leadership: In the end, better leadership is needed most for the VA to heal, and more importantly, help heal America’s veterans. So far, weak management and poor policy has allowed systematic failure nationwide and historically. New leadership can (hopefully) put into effect the change so desperately needed.

If not, we can only expect history to continue repeating itself.

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Jennifer Markert