Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki says he's ousting the leadership...

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki says he's ousting the leadership of the Phoenix VA hospital after revelations about the delays in care for veterans. (May 30) Credit: AP

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has gone away, but the problems that erupted into scandal on his watch have not.

Now that the political process has claimed its pound of flesh, the administration and Congress should focus on fixing what's broken in the delivery of health care for veterans.

The top priorities for the Veterans Health Administration should be ensuring that patients kept off official waiting lists get immediate care, and then eliminating the backlog of those waiting more than 14 days to see a doctor. But the VA's problems are systemic and difficult. They've endured for years. The VA's inspector general said in a report released last week that appointment delays at some of the system's 1,700 clinics had been flagged in its reports dating to 2005.

Scheduling problems have been exacerbated by the crush of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and aging Vietnam veterans with chronic medical conditions. Together they've dramatically driven up demand for care in the system that serves 8.76 million vets a year. The VA needs more primary care doctors to meet the exploding demand, and salaries may have to be raised to attract them.

But providing more timely appointments is just one issue for Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, whom President Barack Obama named on Friday to be the interim successor to Shinseki. There are problems in the culture that must be addressed.

Some staffers kept secret waiting lists to hide their failure to meet the VA's goal for timely care. In the Phoenix clinic where the scandal began, 1,700 veterans were never logged into the official waiting list. It appears that getting good performance reviews tied to pay raises, bonuses and promotions was one motivation for doctoring wait times.

That shameful bureaucratic bungling and lack of integrity have to be eliminated. Veterans must get timely access to the care they deserve.


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