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Wednesday September 3rd 2014

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Outtakes—Sea Change At The VA

Government bureaucracies are nearly indestructible and immovable. Elected officials are mere gnats that can be swatted away. These dinosaurs don’t care who occupies the corner suite on the top floor either. They don’t care what the people they “serve” think about them. They will outlast everyone.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is the second largest bureaucracy in the country with over 330,000 employees. Every year, those employees provide care for over 8.9 million veterans enrolled in VA healthcare. Every day, the VA conducts approximately 236,000 outpatient healthcare appointments—about 85 million last year.

The VA bureaucracy does not like to admit that not all that care is stellar. In 2007, stories of mistreatment of wounded outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center triggered numerous reports of neglect and substandard care from soldiers, their family members, veterans, doctors and nurses working inside the VA system.

The Obama administration promised to do a better job. It hasn’t.

In November 2013, the Independent News interviewed Congressman Jeff Miller (R-Chumuckla), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs committee. He was upset that veterans had to wait two to three years for medical care. At the time, the VA backlog was about 300,000 claims.

Miller lamented how difficult it was to change VA policies. He said, “Some of this is going to take a ‘sea change’ in the way they do things.”

That “sea change” may have finally happened.

The media has begun to report of veterans who have died without ever seeing a VA doctor. In April, whistleblowers reported of a “secret waiting list” of 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans in Phoenix, Ariz. Maybe the backlog was worse than Miller had been told.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said the “secret waiting list” was merely a spreadsheet of “interim notes” that a Phoenix VA clinic developed “for reference purposes.”

In a statement released on May 22, Shinseki promised a “comprehensive, independent review,” but also touted accomplishments at the VA under Obama.

“Since 2009, we have enrolled two million more Veterans in high-quality VA healthcare, reduced Veterans’ homelessness by 24 percent, and provided Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits to more than one million student Veterans and eligible family members,” Shinseki said. “And, we have decreased the disability claims backlog by over 50 percent in the last 14 months.”

On Saturday, May 24, VA announced it would allow more veterans to get health care outside its facilities, which is something the bureaucracy had resisted for years, but Rep. Miller had been advocating.

This could be the “sea change” the congressman had hoped would happen. Maybe our war heroes will now get the medical care they deserve.