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Changes still in progress at the VA health system

The Veterans' Affairs Department has been rocked by the hospital scheduling scandal and other issues connected to providing health care to the nation's veterans. Clearly, the manipulation of the scheduling of veteran's medical appointments was dangerous for the veterans and an unacceptable method management.

Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has reacted with a flurry of new laws and bills, all intended to force change and punish wrongdoing. All of that is fine in the abstract, but more difficult in the particular. Because it is likely, at the core of the issue, it is Congresses fault that the scandal developed in the first place.

The VA health system is large, with more than 53,000 employees in 1,500 locations. Change to such a large system takes time. In addition, the last 13 years have seen a constant influx of newly injured veterans into the system from the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At the same time, Congress has been engaged in cutting spending on all elements of the federal government. Charades like the fiscal cliff and sequestration demonstrate Congresses lack of leadership and inability to recognize that with the power of governance comes great responsibility.

Concerns have been raised that the VA health system, as large as it is, is not large enough to cope with the demands placed on it, and that understaffing has led to shell games like the scheduling scandal, where management "met goals" that were impossible to meet by faking records and maintaining dual sets of patient schedules.

But this does not reduce the number of veterans requiring health services, which must be provided one at a time, with hands-on, time-consuming appointments and treatments.

Of the bills in Congress that would most likely improve service in the VA is one that would allow collective bargaining and unionization of health providers, which provides better protection for workers and allows them to insist on proper staffing levels and realistic schedules.

Source: washingtonpost.com, "VA remains work in progress year after scandal broke," Joe Davidson, May 14, 2015

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