In response to the VA scandal that broke in May, 2014, you might have expected that heads would roll and the VA would shape up. You’d be disappointed. Only 60 people in the vast VA bureaucracy actually lost their jobs because of their involvement in manipulating wait time numbers.
Sharon Helman, the chief administrator of the Phoenix facility, was among them, but her termination was upheld in court not because of the wait time scandal, but because she took gifts from lobbyists! VA bonuses also increased in the face of Congressional outrage. Helman lost hers initially, but got it back when she successfully sued. The VA Secretary during 2014 still managed to hang on until the spring of this year.
In the meantime, the number of veterans waiting for care didn’t shrink. Instead it grew by 50 percent. The VA says the growing wait times are attributable to soaring demand for medical services, brought on by the aging of Viet Nam veterans, the opening of new treatment centers, and a combination of younger veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and exploding demand for costly new Hepatitis-C drugs.
Hepatitis-C is a liver disease which can lead to HIV, cancer, and death. A 12 week course of treatment with one of the new drugs can cost $84,000. In case you haven’t heard, the country is experiencing a Hepatitis-C epidemic, not only among veterans but also among the general population, particularly in Appalachia. Some 60% of Viet Nam veterans test positive for the disease, acquired from transfusions and blood contact in combat or training. Overall, one in ten veterans are infected.
The wait time crisis was supposed to be partially solved by a supplemental appropriation last summer of over $16 billion for the VA, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act. The Act created a Choice Care program, with Choice Cards veterans could use to obtain private care. However, implementing the program included setting up panels to ration treatment, which caused an uproar within the VA itself. A relatively small amount of the money has been used for Choice Cards, and the VA wants to take a big chunk of it to offset its operating deficit.
Representative Mike Coffman (R – Colorado), a vocal critic of the new VA Secretary, said, “This is an organization that is so incompetently led that they can’t even tell us how much any given procedure costs, so it doesn’t surprise me that they can’t manage their existing resources to better serve veterans.” The crisis in veterans’ care continues.
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By Stan Prowse