From Sen. J.B. Jennings:
Our Veterans and the VA System
I am appalled and saddened by the Veterans Administration scandal. Long waits for appointments and medical care are an old story of the inefficient operation of the VA medical system. However, the new aspect of this old story is the rising numbers – more than 57,000 veterans waiting more than 90 days for their first appointment. An additional 64,000 who requested medical care never made it onto VA waiting lists. This is not who we are as a nation!
According to the federal audit released June 9, the average wait time for new patients seeking a primary care doctor at the VA Maryland Health Care System is 81 days, the fourth longest at the facilities examined in the audit. The wait is five times the 14 days set by VA guidelines. Rubbing salt into the open wound of this national scandal, the most recent VA audit found that 13% of VA schedulers were told to falsify appointment request dates to make patient wait times appear shorter.
The other new aspect of the current national disgrace is that, blessedly, it has brought congress together to quickly fix the problem. The eyes of the nation are on Congress and the VA. Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson stated that VA officials have contacted 50,000 veterans nationwide to get them off waiting lists and into clinics. They are in the process of contacting 40,000 more.
Our Vietnam veterans returned home from war and were met with disrespect and anger, a treatment they were not deserving. We, as a country, learned from our past mistake and now our returning Iraq & Afghanistan war vets are returning to a supportive and thankful Nation. However, with all of the support our veterans are getting many still cannot find jobs or receive necessary psychological treatment for PTSD. Too many are condemned to homelessness. Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide, but less than one-quarter are enrolled in the VA health care system. Often, those who attempt suicide in the service receive general discharges instead of honorable discharges and thus, are not eligible for VA mental health services or financial assistance for school. Currently, these discharges are being reexamined.
Twice a year – once Memorial Day in May and again on Veterans Day in November – American patriotism is front and center with parades, ceremonies and concerts giving well-deserved praise and honor to our veterans. In all U.S. wars, from the Revolutionary War to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, one million men and women have given their lives. Over one million have been wounded, their lives and the lives of their families forever changed. Our veterans deserve to be honored 365 days a year. They have more than earned the recognition, respect and the best treatment by their countrymen and their country. Right about now, you’re probably asking – “What can I do?” Well, for openers, the next time you see someone wearing a baseball cap with “Vietnam Veteran”, “Korea Veteran” or wearing anything that shows they are a veteran…go over and shake that person’s hand and just say, “Thank you.”
As the VA investigations proceed, the questions asked will hopefully be answered and I know improvements will be implemented to provide our veterans with the high-quality health care system they should have. You have my assurance I will continue to work with Maryland’s Congressional Delegation and our State Secretary of Veterans Affairs to make certain Maryland does everything it can to protect those who protected and continue to protect us.
Please do not hesitate to contact me on this or any other issue of concern to you. Your input is important to me. I encourage and welcome it.
Senator J.B. Jennings