WHAT OTHERS SAY: Veterans should have flexibility with medical care

Thursday, June 5, 2014 | 2:21 p.m. CDT

Late last month, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in the wake of reports of long delays for health care for veterans, with allegations of doctored records and deaths attributable to the delays.

There is much more work to do, and action should be taken swiftly so that those needing care get it as soon as possible and no more lives are put at risk.

Our veterans have made enough sacrifices for our country. There is no reason they should again have to sacrifice their health because of partisan squabbles.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., posted a summary of his bill that outlines multiple provisions to address problems with veterans' care.

Sanders had introduced a bill in February, but it didn't have enough support to pass. That was before the VA situation erupted into the scandal it has become today. But problems with veterans' health care are far from new.

A recently released report from the VA's inspector general said that appointment delays at some of the system's 1,700 clinics had been flagged in its reports dating to 2005.

Sanders' bill would allow veterans facing long delays to seek care outside VA hospitals and allow them to go to private doctors' offices and community health centers, among other places, according to The Associated Press.

The VA spent about $4.8 billion last year on medical care at non-VA hospitals and clinics. That amounts to about 10 percent of health care costs for the Veterans Health Administration, AP reported.

It is understandable for many veterans to go to VA hospitals and clinics for care. They specialize in care for veterans and are familiar with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

But when you need medical attention, often you need it now, not a week from now, and certainly not six months to a year from now. If the VA cannot provide that care when it's needed, patients should be able to go wherever they need to get that care.

As U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Vietnam veteran, said on CBS' "Face the Nation," ''The solution to this problem is flexibility to the veteran to choose their health care, just like other people under other health care plans ... are able to do."

To fix the broken system, money may have to be spent. But veterans who risked their lives are worth protecting. They should not be forgotten.

Copyright Racine (Wis.) Journal-Times. Distributed by the Associated Press.

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