For the past few years, as the Department of Veterans Affairs was wracked by scandal after scandal, it seemed the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center was immune from the travesties. Across the country there were reports of veterans waiting so long to get care that the delays might have led to deaths. The epicenter of the malfeasance was in Arizona, where officials were accused of falsifying hospital records to mask the fact that they were not providing the prompt treatment the veterans earned via their service to the nation and retaliating against employees who tried to speak up. Serious problems have been found in at least 20 states.
But Northport remained, in reputation, a gem. For a while.
Now it’s clear there are problems there, and a hearing of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs this month on Long Island is necessary. In February black particles began falling out of air ducts in the hospital’s operating rooms, leading to their closure. Repeated efforts to fix the ancient HVAC system have failed. And advocates for local veterans say veterans and employees have been coming forward with other complaints about the hospital’s operations. The recent suicide of a veteran in the hospital parking lot also has caused worries he may have had needs that went unmet, though it’s not clear that’s the case.
Nationally, the VA is a disaster. The facilities are falling apart. The government is a poor manager of the resources available to rebuild and improve them. And the management culture of the VA continues to be one of undeserved bonuses, endless evasions and substandard services.
In a system so flawed, there was no way Northport’s facility could remain top-notch. It must become so again, and that means funding and fixing the system and restoring accountability. — The editorial board