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Doctor shortage an issue with VA, too PDF Print E-mail

By Jan Schultz, The Imperial Republican News Editor

In talking with a few local veterans in recent weeks, they are definitely aware of the issues the VA administration in the U.S. is facing. It really should bother all of us that a taxpayer-funded health care system we all support, and should, is not providing the service to our veterans that they deserve in many of the VA facilities in the U.S.
Since I last wrote about this two weeks ago, Gen. Eric Shinseki, resigned as head of the VA Administration which has 300,000 employees and serves 9 million veterans annually. A disabled veteran himself from the Vietnam war, many consider Shinseki a hero. Some say his May 30 resignation was forced by an administration looking for a scapegoat.
But, with high-level jobs like his, when there are such big problems, you’re often the one to go. However, most believe the resignation from a good man will not solve the problems. The President has conceded that it won’t, but the many calls for his resignation were becoming a distraction, he said.
It appears, both in talking to local veterans and reading a lot on the VA problems, that the “wait time” issue is due to a major lack of doctors who work for the VA. Once veterans are able to get into see a doctor, surveys have shown they give high ratings—in the 82 to 84 percent satisfaction range—for the quality of care they receive.
But waiting up to 90 days for an appointment is unacceptable. According to VA department statistics, primary care appointments in VA facilities have increased 50 percent the last three years, yet the staffing of primary physicians is up just 9 percent. Contributing to the large increase is an aging Vietnam War veteran population, as well as the huge influx of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts who are now coming home.
Chase County’s Veterans Service Officer Duane Todd commented that it shouldn’t be a surprise about the VA doctor shortages when private industry is having the same problems, most notably in small rural areas like Chase County.
So what can be done?
Maybe there are already programs like this, but officials should strongly consider rewarding newly-graduated doctors who will go to work for the VA. Incentives that could include relieving them of medical school loans, much like some programs provide to doctors who serve medically-underserved areas in the private sector, might help significantly.
At the heart of it is that promises made to our veterans are not being honored in many areas. Most of us will never know what these men and women went through in protecting us. It’s our turn now.