How to fix our broken veterans’ health care system

At the Oscars this year, the documentary “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” won an Academy Award. It told the story of the compassionate, dedicated men and women at the Department of Veterans Affairs who help our nation’s veterans.

Unfortunately, the VA’s failing bureaucracy too often deprives our veterans of that kind of attention – especially here in North Carolina.

At the height of last year’s nationwide scandal within the Department of Veterans Affairs, the 700,000-plus veterans in North Carolina were waiting far too long to see doctors.

Depending on the facility, veterans waited for an average of two to three months to have an appointment fulfilled.

And things still haven’t changed. As of last month, wait times remain horrendous. In Charlotte, 10 percent of appointments require a month-long wait or longer, according to VA data.

This points to a broken culture that persists at the VA. More than 10 percent of employees in North Carolina’s VA system were instructed to falsify wait times, according to an internal audit, and many used secret lists designed to hide the changes.

After the scandal broke, the VA promised that it would fix itself, but the persistent wait times prove that this hasn’t happened.

In light of the way it’s been careening from one crisis to another, the VA needs a fundamental change in the way it operates.

Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) has spent the past six months figuring out what that fundamental change would look like. We have unveiled our proposal: the Veterans Independence Act.

The act divides the VA into two parts, each of which focuses on one of the agency’s key functions. One half will focus on insurance and veterans benefits, while the other administers the brick-and-mortar health care function of the VA hospitals and clinics.

Second, the Veterans Independence Act gives veterans the freedom to receive private treatment using their VA benefits. This is preferable to the current system, which forces them to get care at the VA, regardless of convenience or quality.

Our veterans’ health and well-being is too important to let the VA’s problems last any longer than they already have.

Paul Passaro is North Carolina State Director at Concerned Veterans for America.