VA needs all the help it can get
Offers of free help from highly qualified companies should receive a warm welcome – especially from a place as badly in need of it as the Veterans Affairs Administration.
Sen. Mark Warner announced last week that he had sought and received confirmation that the Northern Virginia Technology Council, a 1,000-member trade group, would help the VA straighten out its wretched patient-appointment system. The same group helped Arlington National Cemetery revamp records after a scandal over unmarked or mislabeled graves.
The help would address just one narrowly defined element of the VA’s many problems: how it schedules appointments and waiting times.
Scandals over delayed treatment for veterans along with gross mismanagement at some VA medical centers forced the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki last month.
The VA’s Inspector General found that, in Phoenix, 1,700 veterans had been kept off an official waiting list. Veterans waited an average of 115 days for a first appointment – five times longer than reported to national administrators. At least 40 veterans died while awaiting treatment.
Preliminary results suggest that the VA’s computer appointment system may have been manipulated to hide long waits.
VA hospitals across the country have been plagued with problems even as demand for services grew – treating soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, providing care to aging veterans of other wars, taking on soldiers who lost private insurance during the recession.
Their medical needs can be complex and long-lasting. Keeping track of appointments should be the least demanding part of the VA’s mission.
Help from tech firms that can offer free assistance with streamlining the process and safeguarding it from manipulation should be quickly and heartily accepted.