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June 17, 2014

Money alone can't fix VA's problems

"I am trying to get this 'mess' to operate, and I want you to be as lenient with me as you possibly can. The Veterans Administration will be modernized; let's put it that way. That should be done as soon as possible, but I can't do it immediately."

You might think that was President Obama talking about the VA hospitals' failure to provide timely services to veterans, but actually it was a different president -- Harry Truman -- talking to reporters in May 1945.

Unfortunately our nation has a long history of saying we value the service of veterans, but then not providing the promised medical care when they come home from war.

Congress is trying to change that. The Senate just approved a bill that would double spending for veterans health care over the next three years. More money might help, but what matters even more is what the hospitals and clinics do and how they do it.

The culture needs to change so that serving our veterans is the mind-set. A bureaucracy concerned about veterans wouldn't have forged records to obscure the long waits to get appointments. For example, veterans wait an average of 86 days at the VA hospital in St. Louis for an appointment with a specialist -- the fifth longest wait time of all the VA hospitals.

Why didn't someone stand up and say that the 14-day goal of getting a veteran in to see a doctor was not obtainable? Instead, many of the hospitals kept two sets of records so managers could get bonuses even though veterans couldn't get health care.

It's important for the president and Congress to not assume that the problems are solved just because of a bigger appropriation. History tells us that this problem will require a lot more than money to fix.

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