Janet's Conner

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Friday, August 25, 2006

VA Issues: AMERICAN LEGION SURVEY SHOWS VA IS DRASTICALLY UNDERFUNDED

Congress has consistently underfunded the VA. Insufficient staffing leads to long waiting lists.

El Paso Times
By: Chris Roberts
via: V A Watchdog dot Org
August 25, 2006

Problems identified in an American Legion survey of Veterans Affairs medical centers three years ago were caused mainly by a lack of money and the most recent survey shows little has changed, according to an El Paso resident who was on the national panel that administers the survey.

Insufficient staffing leads to long waiting lists for clinics, pharmacies and specialty care, said retired Lt. Col. John McKinney, from El Paso, who surveyed 26 VA medical care facilities for the 2006 report. The report, due to be published this month, is provided to VA officials and to every member of Congress.

This year's report, as has been the case in the three previous ones, calls for a fundamental change in the way the VA medical centers are funded. To ensure enough money is available for basic needs at the beginning of the budget cycle, it promotes an approach called "mandatory funding."

Congress has consistently underfunded VA to the extent that it doesn't have enough money to take care of the demand for medical care it knows it will have, McKinney said, much less any unanticipated demands.

"Year after year, veterans' health care funding falls well short of the funding required to maintain even the most routine health care services," said U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX). "Veterans in El Paso and across the country have earned and deserve more than this. Creating a dedicated funding stream for veterans' health care through mandatory funding would help the VA solve those and other problems currently plaguing the Veterans Health Administration."

Reyes is a co-sponsor of the Assured Funding for Veterans Health Care Act of 2005, which is now in the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

In previous surveys, the American Legion had evaluated all the VA's major medical facilities, about 165 total.

"This year we're virtually starting over," McKinney said.

McKinney said the medical center staff have been very open and cooperative. This being an election year and with soldiers returning home from combat in Iraq and Afghanastan, some lawmakers also have expressed an increased interest in the survey, asking to get the report delivered as soon as it is availbale, he said.

***It should not take an election year to catch the interests of our representatives in Washington. Right there, tells you that this is half-heartedly being done. Shouldn't they "Support Our Troops" all of the time? They claim that they do!

McKinney, who has had the opportunity to observe VA operations in El Paso and around the nation, said El Paso VA services are among the best he has seen. The problems here, including a waiting list for dental care, mirror those around the nation. Other problems observed nationally, such as a lack of money for mental health services, do not seem to be a problem in El Paso, he said.

Troops returning from the recent conflicts are displacing older veterans, he said, overloading understaffed medical centers, increasing wait times and creating the need for travel to other centers or expensive local referrals. Some hospitals, he said, have one doctor for 1,200 patients. And when veterans are referred outside the region, they pick up most of the travel costs, he said.

THE VA UNDERESTIMATED THE NUMBER OF TROOPS IN CURRENT CONFLICTS THAT WOULD SEEK HELP FOR POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER, McKinney said, and war reporting in the media appears to be dredging up old and painful memories for some of the older vets.

"The VA has seen a significant increase in first-time Vietnam veterans," McKinney said, adding that the number of troops estimated to seek help for PTSD in 2006 already has been exceeded, with eight months to go in the fiscal year.

Although veterans in some regions must wait as long as a year to receive dental care, the El Paso VA recently hired another dentist and expects that there will be no waiting list by the end of September, said Ray Perdue, executive assistant to the director of the El Paso VA Health Care system, which includes a clinic in Las Cruces, N.M.

Another part of the problem is that the VA often can't attract specialists because they can't match pay available in the community. A "Physicians Pay" bill that passed two years ago could help by linking VA salaries to those in the local community, but few pay scales have been established, he said.

***This is the problem with Bush's VA Budget. All that you have been hearing from Bush and the Republicans is about how Bush is the first president to have given the VA record amounts of money. And the people are believing this crap! All kinds of bills can be passed to help our veterans, but the thing is, BUSH WON'T FUND THEM. HIS VA BUDGET WAS NOTHING BUT A BUNCH OF NUMBERS THAT LOOK GOOD AND SOUND GOOD. But if people would take the time out to sit down and do the figures, they'd see that Bush and the Republicans have DONE NOTHING FOR THE VA! THESE NUMBERS ARE ALL PHONEY NUMBERS. "THE PEOPLE" AREN'T TAKING INTO CONSIDERATION THAT BUSH DIDN'T GIVE THE VA ANYTHING FOR A COUPLE OF YEARS AND THEN WILL START TAKING BACK SOME OF THE MONEY IN FUTURE YEARS. GET WITH IT PEOPLE! BUSH'S NUMBERS ARE AS PHONEY AS HE IS!

The biggest area of specialty shortage in the VA in neurosurgeons, McKinney said.

"Their salaries are high and the VA can't match them," he said, adding that there are waiting lists for audiology and cardiology care as well, some of which are particularly acute in certain geographic areas.

Perdue said the El Paso VA can refer patients who need neurosurgery to Beaumont Army Medical Center, which is next door. Although the VA pays for the treatment, it doesn't pay the neurosurgeon's salary, which is a relatively unique situation, he said.

The El Paso VA recently hired a second cardiologist and is looking for an audiologist, he said, adding that there is no waiting list for any of those services.

Because of the consistent problems nationally, McKinney said all the veterans service organizations are supporting a change in the way VA is funded. Instead of funding it as a discretionary expense, which means VA starts every year at zero and then must show a need for money, it should be mandatory, which starts with a baseline of known expenses and goes up with anticipated needs.

"It needs to be funded for the need it knows it's going to have and the realistic increases we're going to see coming out of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom," McKinney said.

But McKinney points out that everybody is competing for the same, limited amounts of money.

"Nobody is ever going to be comletely satisfied," McKinney said. "You do the best you can with what you've got."

***Did you know that the VA could be completely funded if Bush didn't give that upper 1% all of those tax breaks? The upper 1% consists of only 7-8,000 families. How many veterans have families out there? More than 7-8,000!!!!!!!!



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