Sebelius’s departure overshadows Veterans Affairs hospital debacle

One of the top political stories to come out of the past week was the resignation of Health and Human Services Department Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who led the rollout of the new health care marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act.

Almost immediately, the name of the current director of the Office of Management and Budget, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, began floating as Sebelius’ replacement during the continued implementation of the new healthcare law.

These news stories drowned out another important health-related issue: that apparently dozens of patients at the Phoenix Veteran Affairs hospital had passed away because of a delay in medical care.

 

 

During a Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on April 10, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said “as many as 40″ veterans had died and that the Phoenix VA Health Care System keeps two sets of records to conceal prolonged waits for medical treatment.

Issues with the VA are as numerous and well-documented as they are tragic, and the attempts at reform have been unfortunately running into roadblocks.

Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., got into it April 9, after Sanders, chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, refused to move legislation to authorize 27 new VA clinics in Vitter’s state from the committee to the floor of the Senate.

Sanders’s reluctance stems from the Republican filibuster on his “more comprehensive” bill, which includes the 27 clinics and would seek to help veterans “not only from Afghanistan and Iraq, but Vietnam and Korea.”

Why doesn’t Vitter embrace the more comprehensive bill, given that he and Sanders agree authorizing on new health care clinics for veterans?

Vitter insisted on offsetting the funding for the clinics with spending cuts, to which Sanders replied, “If you think it’s too expensive, then don’t send (veterans) off to war.”

It doesn’t seem like providing quality health care to our nation’s veterans should be an issue raising any kind of controversy. It should be a no-brainer: our men and women in uniform deserve the best health care possible, and it is shameful that they have not received it.

Among the factors preventing access to quality care include “poor mental health care, an emergency room swamped with vets whose condition had worsened while they waited for appointments, and hostile working conditions that drive away quality doctors and nurses.”

Mental health care is something that comes up a lot these days — every time there’s a mass shooting in the U.S., we start to talk about improving mental health care but do little to actually improve it.

If she’s confirmed as the HHS head, Sylvia Mathews Burwell’s first priority should be to work with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to prevent delays in health care delivery and to ensure quality care is accessible to every single current and former member of our armed forces.

Reach the columnist at skthoma4@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @savannahkthomas

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

Want to join the conversation? Send an email to opiniondesk.statepress@gmail.com. Keep letters under 300 words and be sure to include your university affiliation. Anonymity will not be granted.