By Debbie Gregory
Back in April, the VA acknowledged the deaths of 23 Veterans due to delayed treatment within the VA healthcare system. Stories and accusations have been on the rise, amplifying the charges around the country and increasing the number pf those affected to several dozen, depending on varying unconfirmed accounts.
One of the main accusations is taking place in Arizona, where leadership from the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Healthcare System is under fire. It is alleged that more than 40 deaths have occurred among Phoenix area Veterans due to lengthy waits for VA healthcare treatment. Officials for the Phoenix VA Healthcare System have acknowledged that there have been mistakes and issues within their region, and agree that measures must be taken to improve Veteran healthcare, and access to it, within the region.
The National Commanders for both of the largest Veteran organizations, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, have voiced their disapproval of the VA’s handling of Veteran healthcare, especially in Phoenix. The VFW expressed their lack of trust in VA officials in Phoenix.But the American Legion is taking their distrust of VA healthcare to another level. The American Legion, along with another Veterans organization, the Concerned Veterans of America, have called for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
General Shinseki, U.S. Army [RET], was appointed to his position as head of the VA by President Obama in 2008, and was sworn in on January 21, 2009. Gen. Shinseki’s last post was as the Chief of Staff of the Army. Under Shinseki’s tenure, the VA system has seen some improvements. Though still not perfect, the VA has made significant advancements in speeding up the claims processes for nearly all Veteran benefits. Moving from paper applications that required snail mail, fax machines and manually maintained paper files, the VA is now almost completely paperless. Now in use are online systems, such as eBenefits, that are stored, dated and prioritized automatically, removing several opportunities for human error and delays.
Veterans also have the best and most generous education benefits in history with the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Veteran homelessness in America is on schedule to be eradicated by the end of next year, and the Veteran unemployment figures are improving faster than the civilian rate.
The biggest concern being voiced while calling for Shinseki’s resignation has also been one of his main focuses as VA secretary. Knowing that Veteran healthcare has been in a backlog for decades, the VA has made speeding up healthcare and disability claims their number one priority. The VA has been one of the few government agencies that has been on a hiring spree to employ doctors, nurses, counselors, social workers and medical administrative staff in order to remedy the situation. Unfortunately, the entire department cannot be overhauled overnight.
Shinseki has responded by saying that he will not step down. “I serve at the pleasure of the president,” Shinseki said. “I signed on to make some changes, I have work to do.”
The White House briefly addressed the situation at their daily news brief. Press Secretary Jay Carney told the media that the president takes accusations of Veteran deaths very seriously.”The President remains confident in Secretary Shinseki’s ability to lead the department and take appropriate action,” Carney said.
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Military Connection: VA Secretary Won’t Resign: By Debbie Gregory