I was recently told a story about a US war veteran. This veteran lives about 100 miles from the nearest VA hospital, where they must go to get their prescriptions filled. They cannot get those prescriptions filled unless they go have an appointment. The travel is particularly hard on them, meaning they must double up on their pain medications following such a trip, and will be laid up in bed for several days afterwards. The VA does not deliver, does not send out a physician, and demands that this frail, elderly individual cause themselves undo pain and suffering to get the prescriptions they need to live comfortably in their old age.
This individual is running out of their medication, and had an appointment to go to the VA in September to renew them. But the VA called and cancelled the visit, and pushed it to October. That means that this person will have an additional month without any medications because the VA chose to push back their appointment, and they are not able to fill their prescrition anywhere else, even though they have several refills pending. So now, they are stuck without medication for a month, and with no way of fixing this problem. And what happens if the VA postpones again?
This is a true life story, and it is by no means an exception. One of the things that Americans have always had is a profound respect for our men and women in uniform, our veterans, and their families. We have long advocated that they be taken care of as a thank-you for their service to our country.
So when I hear stories like this, it makes me feel as though we should do something, and something profound, to help. I'm not talking about merely giving the VA more money. I'm talking about changing how the VA works. You see, even if the VA had kept that appointment, they are still requiring an elderly veteran to travel a very long distance, placing themselves in physical pain, to get their prescriptions. Anyone who is not a veteran or does not use the VA would never dream of putting up with that. So, why do we force our veterans to?
I know that the VA does some good things for our veterans, but this is not one of them. How do we provide basic support to our veterans in a cost-efficient manner that doesn't require so much trouble and difficulty on their part? How can we make it so that they don't have to wait a month without prescriptions because the VA is overcrowded and too busy?
Well, here are some solutions. First, instead of centralizing the services of the VA, send out VA doctors like the Visiting Nurses Association. Instead of central hubs, open smaller local offices that are easier to get to, and that can send a doctor into the community to write prescriptions, do check-ups, and monitor the health of seniors without forcing them to go anywhere. Second, allow veterans to have more freedom to select where they receive care. If they like their PCP, don't force them to go the VA to get a prescription written or filled. Give them the ability to go to the local pharmacy to pick it up. How hard is that? Finally, provide veterans with the means to get to their appointments. If they struggle with driving, then provide transportation. If you are requiring them to go somewhere, then you damn well better be providing them with a free mode of transportation so they can get there.
It seems that our VA, like many other parts of our government, has struggled in this recession and the subsequent dog fight over the debt. While no one is advocating a cut to the VA budget, it is worth looking at some different business models to make their services run smoother, more efficient, and more helpful for those they serve. After all, don't our veterans deserve that much?