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WBEN Extra: What's Next for the VA

Details of a refashioned bill to address the problems plaguing the federally run veterans' health care system have been released by its sponsor, the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, posted a summary of his bill Sunday and said it would be introduced this week.

The bill includes several new provisions aimed at fixing the long delays for veterans' care. The long-simmering issue erupted into a scandal in April and led to last week's resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki after a federal investigation into the troubled Phoenix VA Health Care System found that about 1,700 veterans in need of care were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" after being kept off an official waiting list. (cont'd below)      

Buffalo's Early News In-Depth: 
John & Susan  with  Iraq Vet David Bellavia (L) , and former Erie Co. Veteran's Services Dir. Patrick Welch (R)   

Also: Bellavia & Welch on Bergdahl Release

 AP PhotoSee Also  COMMENTARY from Peter Morici :  "Thanks to the scandals and missteps at the Veterans Administration and elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy, President Obama is losing all credibility as a manager and leader"   


How Does Buffalo's VA Stack Up?

Buffalo, NY (WBEN) One local veterans advocate says Buffalo's VA Hospital is among the best in the country, but is aware of problems throughout the country.

"From our medical centers, we have one of the best," says Patrick Welch. "That said, we are aware across the country of exhibits of the 14 day waiting list is abused," referring to the mandate a veteran gets an appointment scheduled within 14 days of initial contact.

Brian Stiller with the VA Buffalo says the hospital offers a full range of health care. "When they contact us, their eligiblity is determined by the health eligibility center. Then, we get a list or a name and reach out and contact them, and assign them a primary care team if that's what they're looking for," says Stiller. "In some cases, a veteran may need a specific treatment and can go right into the clinic."

Stiller says there's also a way to determine if a veteran needs to be seen sooner. "There is a process clinicians should be using for judgment for the urgency of an appointment," says Stiller.

(cont'd from above)
The investigation also found broad and deep-seated problems throughout the sprawling health care system, which provides medical care to about 6.5 million veterans annually.

Sanders said in a statement issued Sunday that while the people who have lied or manipulated data must be punished, "we also need to get to the root causes of the problems that have been exposed."

The bill would allow veterans facing long delays to seek care outside the VA, at private doctors' offices, military bases or community health centers. It also authorizes emergency funding to hire new doctors and nurses and would provide scholarships or forgive college loans for doctors and nurses who go to work at the VA. In addition, it would give the department authority to fire poor-performing executives, but not as broadly as a bill passed in the House and defeated in the Senate last month.

An earlier version of Sanders' bill did not have enough support to pass in February. (cont'd below)

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Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Sunday that the key to fixing the problem was giving veterans the flexibility to get the care they need at the closest, most available place.

"And that's the solution to this problem is flexibility to the veteran to choose their health care, just like other people under other health care plans have the - are able to do," McCain, a Vietnam veteran, said on CBS' Face the Nation. "Why doesn't that veteran have a card and go to the caregiver that he or she needs and wants?"

The VA spent about $4.8 billion last year on medical care at non-VA hospitals and clinics. That amounts to about 10 percent of health care costs for the Veterans Health Administration.

 WBEN News  
 & Opinion  

 Obama Gets an "F" as America's CEO in VA Scandal

University  of Maryland Economist Peter Morici writes

Thanks to the scandals and missteps at the Veterans Administration and elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy, President Obama is losing all credibility as a manager and leader. Many Americans are justifiably enraged or at least awfully frustrated by federal government overreach, incompetence and corruption.

A good CEO must set goals and establish strategies to ensure successful delivery of services to customers. In this case, medical treatment to former military personnel relying on the VA.

Like other CEOs of large, geographically dispersed organizations with diverse product lines, the president must hire department heads to address issues foreseen and yet to be identified, and hold them accountable.

The president's actions indicate politics trumped those responsibilities at the VA and other federal agencies.

When Obama assumed office, the VA's problems were well known to veterans, the Congress and the concerned public.  The Inspector General has published 19 wait-time audits since 2005, a commission co-chaired by Donna Shalala and Bob Dole documented delays and gaps in treatment in 2007, and published reports of management dysfunction and poor service go back to the 1950s.

Yet, Obama appointed Eric Shinseki to lead the VA because as an Army Chief of Staff in 2003, he publically disputed Donald Rumsfeld's claims about the troop strength needed to invade Iraq. That made him the Army darling of congressional Democrats.

According to Duke University Peter Feaver, who advised the Bush administration on military matters, Shinseki's record indicates he is hardly a "virtuoso manager."

The VA put in place a system to reward managers for reducing wait times and getting veterans the services they need. At the VA Phoenix facility and elsewhere, the bureaucrats responded by simply not placing hundreds of patients on wait lists and reporting fraudulent data to get the extra cash. All the while, Shinseki, overwhelmed by executive responsibilities exceeding his abilities, was apparently oblivious to thousands of veterans being denied care and some consequently dying.

Now the president and Democrats want to escape accountability and regain the political upper hand by blaming Republicans in Congress for denying the VA adequate funds to do its job.

Since 2003, however, VA spending has increased 106 percent while its case load is up only 30 percent. A good deal of money has gone into feeding an inept, bloated and too often dishonest cadre of civil servants-some who should face criminal prosecution.

For ideologically committed liberals, the whole affair is a disaster. The VA scandal, along with public dissatisfaction with ObamaCare, lay bare that the federal bureaucracy is incapable of managing health care effectively.

And Democrats championing a national health service, patterned after the British model, are essentially proposing to generalize the frustrations suffered by 8 million veterans at the VA to more than 300 million Americans at virtually every medical facility across the nation.

Instead, most VA facilities should be sold to the private sector or closed.

The VA should simply reimburse private physicians and facilities for providing veterans with treatment. Only reserved to VA should be severe, highly-specialized conditions-mostly those related to combat-that require unique expertise not generally available to civilians.

Sadly, as with the IRS targeting harassing conservative groups, the State Department missteps in the Benghazi tragedy and other scandals, the president is not forthrightly acknowledging and addressing failures of performance at the VA.

By hewing to an ideological bias against the private sector and seeking to shift blame on Republicans, Obama is denying veterans relief they need now, and is destroying confidence among Americans that their government can do much of anything well or honestly.

From this professor, the president gets an F in management and leadership.

Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, national columnist and five-time winner of the MarketWatch best forecaster award. He tweets @pmorici1

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Locations : Buffalo
People : Brian StillerPatrick Welch
06/02/2014 6:51AM
WBEN Extra: What's Next for the VA
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06/02/2014 8:21AM
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