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VA issues embarrass nation
Legislative update
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Phoenix, Ariz.
• Possibly as many as 40 veterans who were never put on the official list for doctors’ appointments may have died while awaiting care.
• Approximately 1,700 patients possibly were not placed on the official waiting list for doctors’ appointments and never received care.
• There’s an average 115-day wait time for initial primary-care appointments — nearly five times as long as what the hospital’s administrators reported.

Columbia, S.C.   
• Six possibly preventable deaths were reported due to delayed endoscopy screenings in gastrointestinal cancer cases.

Chicago, Ill.
• A whistleblower — the president of a federal employee union — claimed that secret lists and falsified wait times were an “everyday practice” at the VA and complaints of data fraud were ignored.  

San Antonio, Texas
• A retired doctor claimed that physicians regularly were asked to alter the request date for ultrasounds, MRIs and CT scans in order to hide long backlogs for tests.
These are just a few of the many claims that have come to light in the past few weeks regarding the appalling and disgraceful way the Veterans Affairs hospital system has been run in recent years.
As a result of this sad and embarrassing state of affairs surrounding the health-care system built for our American heroes, Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki stepped down from his position last week.
While both Democratic and Republican leaders welcomed Shinseki’s resignation, the core problem with the out-of-control VA health-care system remains and must be addressed immediately.
In 1930, the VA health-care system consisted of 54 hospitals. It has now grown to include 152 hospitals serving eight million veterans every year.
The system also includes 800 community-based outpatient clinics and 135 nursing-home care units.
The total veteran population in the United States is more than 23 million. There are a total of 778,282 in Georgia, 71,372 of whom live in the 1st Congressional District.
Although Georgia’s government has nothing to do with the VA health-care system, our state has a long history of treating veterans and their families with the upmost respect. During the past decade, the Georgia legislature passed numerous laws to benefit and honor our veterans.
In 2005, the hugely successful Georgia HERO (Helping Educate Reservists and their Offspring) Scholarship was created. This grant is awarded to members of the Georgia National Guard or Reserves for the sum of $2,000 per year up to $8,000 total. The grant also is available to the children of Guard or Reserve members.
In 2006, the Military Excused Absences Act was passed. It grants five excused absences per year to students whose parents are in the military and have been called to duty for overseas deployment. When the parents are home on leave, this act allows them to visit with their children.
This past session, to honor our combat-wounded veterans for their service and sacrifice, Georgia was designated as a “Purple Heart State,” and Aug. 7 of every year was designated as “Purple Heart Day.” This day is set aside to honor those wounded or killed while serving in any branch of the United States armed services.
Our veterans are our heroes and should be treated as such. What has evolved in our VA health-care system is a travesty and should be an embarrassment to all Americans.
Some have suggested that our veterans be given more access to private hospitals and clinics in an effort to improve their treatment. One senator even suggested they be given a card allowing them access to the private health-care sector, a suggestion that has garnered much support.
It’s time to rethink and re-evaluate the VA health-care system in our country. Our veterans — our heroes — should have access to the best health care available and should be first in line for services — just as they were first in line for us.

Carter can be reached at 421-B State Capitol, Atlanta, GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is 404-656-5109.

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