Our veterans have done so much for us; now we need to do more for them. The upcoming election cycle is an opportunity for all of us to reaffirm our country’s promise to our veterans. But challenges such as long wait times to avail critical health care needs, crippling claims backlogs, student debt, homelessness and joblessness with little to no coordination between different government agencies responsible for serving the veterans have created these problems which are quickly turning to be serious, systemic and absolutely unacceptable. We need a VA for the 21st century and that means serving and adapting to an increasingly diverse community with new and different needs. Hence here are the first two of our suggestions to the responsible departments to correct this dilemma we are in.
The VA currently uses more than 100 electronic health record systems, so different sites can’t talk to one another, much less with the Defense Department or other hospital systems. That doesn’t make any sense, and it does a disservice to our veterans. How can we maintain the most advanced military in the history of the world and fight wars across vast oceans and continents, yet we can’t figure out how to ensure that no veterans ever have to wait in line for weeks or months to get care, no matter where they live or what their needs are. It starts with accountability, from the top leadership at the VA to midlevel managers to entry-level employees.The secretary of veterans affairs and the secretary of defense should sync up their systems, coordinate efforts at every level, and enforce zero tolerance for any kind of future abuses and delays we’ve seen.
Instead of privatizing everything there should be more partnerships between the VA and private hospitals and community health care providers. As we all know that putting our vets at the mercy of private insurance companies without any care coordination, or leave them to fend for themselves with health care providers who have no expertise in the unique challenges facing veterans could quickly get dicey.
As the nature of warfare evolves so should our response to it. The men and women who have been affected by the scourge of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) need the ground-breaking research pioneered by the VA and Defense departments in the field of post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and prosthetics so that this new generation of veterans gets the care it needs.
Veterans need to also have access to mental health and substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation facilities. The number of veterans who commit suicide every day or who live homeless on the streets is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s a national disgrace that demands action.
Women are making up a bigger and bigger percentage of the veterans community and the numbers will only grow in the years ahead. Yet too often, the VA system isn’t equipped to serve women. Nearly a third of VA clinics don’t have OBGYNs and, in some cases, women who lost limbs fighting for our country have found that the only prosthetics available are designed for men. That has to change.
Overall we need to reform the VA to guarantee that our veterans have reliable and consistent access to the high-quality health care they’ve earned. We should transform the Veterans Health Administration from just a provider of services into a truly integrated health care system.
A relevant educated work force is the foundation to any economy. Knowledge is now doubling at exponential speeds with technology leap frogging many folds. Hence we have to make sure that the men and women who risk their lives for our country have access to cutting edge education and relevant jobs. The departments currently has started to put caps on how many times or credits a veteran can qualify to avail their educational benifits in an academic year or his or her life time. This is very counterproductive as this slows the process of getting our vets integrated back into a productive and competitive work force. Hence we all should resist any effort to reduce or roll back any educational benifits. We should also close what’s known as the 90/10 loophole, which encourages for-profit schools to target service members, veterans and their families with false promises and deceptive marketing.
The last decade has added only more strain on our military families, with long wars abroad and a tough economy here at home. Service and sacrifice on the home front rarely gets the respect and recognition they deserve. In short we need to do more to support the families of service members and veterans. All of this could just be the beginning of new hope.
By Celso Pacheco & Naved Jafry