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Wholly Unacceptable

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News September 2014

Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) had some strong words for a House committee over the ongoing situation in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system.

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PVA Acting Associate Executive Director of Government Relations Carl Blake told the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Congress should have paid attention when it was told of problems in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and politics were too often used in place of good policy.

Blake testified with several other veteran service organizations during a July 24 hearing entitled, “Restoring Trust: The View of the Acting Secretary and the Veterans Community.” The hearing looked at what’s happened since news first broke in April of veterans’ deaths and delayed care at VA medical centers.

Not Surprising

During his testimony, Blake noted the VHA problems aren’t shocking.

“It is truly disappointing to hear the bad things that have been reported about the VA health care system over the last several months,” Blake said. “Yet almost nothing that has been disclosed is surprising.”

He stated that PVA members are “the highest percentage users of VA health care in the veterans population” and have experienced delays and “appointment-scheduling gimmicks.” Despite the troubles in some areas of the VHA, Blake said that has not extended to the spinal-cord injury centers.

“Paralyzed Veterans has managed to work with the VA to make the spinal-cord injury system of care a crown jewel through our annual site visits and our vigilance to ensure proper staffing and resources are devoted to that system,” he said. “The sad reality is that veterans who try to access the larger VA system do not have the same luxury.”

Politics Trumped Policy

Blake told the committee there’s plenty of blame to go around in this situation.

“The fact is that we are all complicit in these problems,” he said. “Veterans service organizations should have provoked greater examination of our concerns by forcing Congress and senior VA leadership to stare into the face of the problem as we saw it. Meanwhile, the administration should have been truly honest about the resources and staffing it needed to meet actual demand on the health care system, not manipulating demand and statistics to make things look better than they obviously were.

“Finally, Congress should have actually listened to what we, the advocates, have been saying for years about these problems,” Blake continued. “Instead, politics has for too long trumped sound policy when it comes to meeting the health care and benefits needs of veterans.”

He said even though money hasn’t been handled well by the VA, more of it is needed to fix the problems.

“I will not dispute the argument that the VA health care system has been given large sums of money and that the VA did a poor job of managing and spending those resources,” Blake stated. “But that does not automatically mean that additional resources are not needed now. We believe they absolutely are needed, whether to address the recommendations that the VA has presented or to put into place the provisions of the bills being considered in conference.”

Not a Long-Term Answer

Blake also stressed that privatizing VA health care is not a good long-term solution and why the system is still the best one for veterans.

“Sending veterans out into the private marketplace may alleviate the serious pressures on access right now, but that is not the answer to the long-term problem,” he testified. “Even the representative from the American Hospital Association admitted that they would need time to understand the nature of the veteran patient population before taking on this new demand.”

Blake went on to make it clear how PVA looked at the situation.

“Paralyzed Veterans finds it wholly unacceptable that tens of thousands of veterans have waited for far too long to be seen for an appointment, and in many cases were never seen,” he said. “Not a single veteran should have to wait for care when it is needed.”

He concluded by emphasizing the potential consequences of contracting health care outside the VA.

“We can promise that there will be a long-term negative impact on the VA system if broad-based contract care becomes a central tenet of the delivery of health care to veterans in the future,” Blake said. “Such a decision will impact the veterans who rely on VA the most — veterans with catastrophic disabilities like spinal-cord injury, amputation and polytrauma/TBI (traumatic brain injury) — because there are not viable alternatives in the private sector. If Congress is willing to accept the consequences of the decision to purchase more care in the private sector, then by all means proceed, but know that we will hold you responsible for the outcomes of this decision.”

To read Blake’s full testimony, visit pva.org.

 

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Wholly Unacceptable

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