The scandal regarding veterans being put on waiting lists for medical appointments and records being falsified trying to hide this fact has cost Gen. Eric K. Shinseki his job and is eroding people’s confidence in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Gen. Shinseki had served as secretary of the VA since 2009. President Barack Obama accepted his resignation from the position May 30.
This controversy obviously involves more than one individual, and President Obama should hold more people within the VA accountable for allowing it to occur. But Gen. Shinseki’s departure was a good first step in getting to the bottom of such deplorable acts and reforming the system.
The Obama administration had strongly considered a Watertown native to fill the role of VA secretary. Dr. Delos M. “Toby” Cosgrove III, the renowned chief operating officer of the Cleveland Clinic, had ideal credentials for the job. But he respectfully withdrew his name from the list, opting to continue his exceptional work in Ohio.
Finding the appropriate person to serve as VA secretary is crucial to correcting the flaws in the system that led to this scandal. Another key part to this is advancing practical solutions to the issues plaguing the VA.
The Obama administration has already said it will allow veterans to receive medical care at some private hospitals and clinics. If the federal government is serious about providing quality health care to those who have served our nation, it must recognize that the network of VA hospitals and clinics established for this purpose is not enough.
Making use of community health care facilities would go a long way toward reducing the wait times inherent in the VA system. Given the unique relationship that Fort Drum personnel have with Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown, the north country would be an excellent location to put a pilot program on a wider scale into motion.
When Fort Drum was expanded in the mid-1980s to house the 10th Mountain Division, part of the plan included having service personnel make more use of community resources. This meant that soldiers would live in the surrounding areas, send their children to local schools and receive medical care at local hospitals. At the time, this included Samaritan, Carthage Area Hospital and Mercy. Many soldiers from the 10th have decided to remain in Northern New York once they retire, joining the multitude of other veterans who call the north country home. We have a critical mass of underserved veterans.
As is occurring in many rural areas across the nation, health care facilities here have been severely impacted by substantial reductions in their patient base. Allowing veterans to use these local sites would offer facilities a more reliable revenue stream and would provide more medical care options for veterans. The closest VA hospital is in Syracuse with government clinics spread out in various communities.
Ensuring that our veterans have access to the best medical care possible must be a national priority. Allowing them to use local health care facilities close to home would mean less waiting time at VA hospitals long distances from home and would put high quality medical treatment at the veterans’ fingertips. And the extra VA business generated for the hospitals would help challenged rural hospitals find an upward trajectory.