Having worked as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in two VA hospitals, one in Chicago and one here in Tampa, I would like to make a few comments about the recently documented disgraceful scandals.
First, there are thousands of health-care providers who are serving veterans in admirable fashion, as evidenced by recently published patient satisfaction polls. It’s not the providers; it is the administrators who are involved in this disgusting conduct.
No providers receive bonuses, just administrators. The bonuses are tied to various performance standards, such as appointing patients in two weeks or less. Hence the birth of the secret appointment schedules.
Not all administrators are culpable in this inexcusable conduct, but there are many who are. And as the newspapers have noted, they are doing it for no other reason than to receive the annual bonus. I can think of nothing more despicable than receiving a bonus as a result of instituting a plan that puts our veterans’ lives at risk. I might quickly add that the James A. Haley and Bay Pines VA hospitals were not involved.
These deplorable instances have opened the door for additional unjust criticisms that are factually inaccurate.
For instance, Jesse Watters on Fox’s “The Five” recently made a statement asserting that the VA does not even have a computerized medical record, that it still uses paper medical records. I can assure you, as one who was in charge of the implementation of the electronic medical record (EMR) at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa in 2000, that his statement shows a complete lack of knowledge in the matter. All of the VA hospitals in the nation have EMRs. They were probably the first nationwide electronic records in existence and have been widely praised.
So my plea is this: Please do not assume that the entire VA system is a mess. It is not. There are some top-notch providers in the system, and the care they provide is, for the most part, excellent — certainly comparable to care provided by community providers.
And don’t forget, the increase in patients as a result of the two wars has drastically increased the number of patients who need care. Unfortunately, the number of health-care providers available to provide that care cannot keep up with the demand.
Only Congress can rectify that situation. Their solution is always the same: Replace the secretary of Veterans Affairs. So another political appointee is dropped into place, and the beat goes on.
B. Frank Kepley is a retired U.S. Navy captain who spent 26 years in that branch of service and 15 years with the VA. He lives in Sun City Center.