AP/Las Vegas Sun Looks at ‘Crush’ of Returning Veterans Seeking Care at VA Facilities
The AP/Las Vegas Sun on Sunday examined the "mixed record" of the Department of Veterans Affairs in handling the "crush of new veterans" returning to the United States from various conflicts abroad. More than 20,000 soldiers returning from recent combat in Iraq and Afghanistan have sought care at VA hospitals, and with "thousands" more veterans expected to seek health services, VA is facing its "biggest challenge since the early 1990s," the AP/Sun reports. After VA's "highly publicized problems ... serving veterans of the first Iraq war," lawmakers have "pressed" the department to update its record system and streamline its application process, the AP/Sun reports. The VA system still largely relies on paper records, according to the AP/Sun, and a $472 million computerized record-keeping system in Florida that was intended to become a national model recently failed. The department has reduced the average waiting period for veterans to receive an initial disability ruling to 171 days from a peak of 233 days in March 2002. To address waiting times, VA has hired 1,500 new workers; formed special teams dedicated to reducing backlogs; extended medical facilities' hours; added examination rooms; and shifted more employees to areas where they can better help reduce the backlog. While 176,000 veterans were waiting for their first physician visits in July 2002, the current backlog is 3,242 cases. Veterans groups have so far given VA "a passing grade in absorbing the new entries but are not fully convinced the agency is up to the task," the AP/Sun reports. Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, said, "[I]t's very important" for VA to offer "psychological screenings, information pamphlets and hotlines for prevention of suicides. It's obvious to us that mental health disorders and psychological injuries are going to play an important role for the next 20 years." VA Secretary Anthony Principi said, "I'm not going to wait until every 'i' is dotted and every 't' is crossed to care for [veterans]," adding, "I believe the agency will be defined for generations by how well we take care of these returning troops" (Margasak, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 5/16).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.