Metro-East News

Veterans still endure long waits even after Congress implements $10 billion fix

Mike Fitzgerald
Mike Fitzgerald

National Public Radio and its member stations have spent the past several months reporting on problems besetting the Veterans Administration’s $10 billion Veterans Choice program, which was created by Congress two years ago to squash long wait times veterans were encountering when going to see a doctor.

Congress and Department of Veterans Affairs officials are in the middle of overhauling the program. According to NPR, here are some of the big problems:

▪ The VA’s most recent data show compared with last year, there are now 70,000 more appointments that kept a veteran waiting at least a month to get care.

▪  A March General Accounting Office report shows the Choice program had little impact on getting veterans to see a primary care physician in 30 days.

▪  Thousands of veterans referred to the program are returning to the VA for care — sometimes because the program couldn't find a doctor for them, and for 28,287 vets, because the private doctor they were told to see was too far away, according to data NPR obtained from the VA.

▪  The GAO tells NPR that the VA's claims process is so backed up that the VA could easily spend more money this year on interest for late payments than Medicare does, even though Medicare processes hundreds of billions of dollars more in claims.

***

The military released data this month showing over 6,000 reported sexual assaults during 2015. The real number is likely three or four times higher. Just like in the civilian world, most rape doesn't get reported, and the Pentagon acknowledges this happens in the military because victims fear they — not the perpetrators — will face reprisals from commanders, according to NPR.

Human Rights Watch says in a report today that the Pentagon doesn't do enough to repair the damage from those reprisals.

“It’s a common perception in the military that you have to choose between reporting your rape and staying in the military,” said Sara Darehshori, who interviewed hundreds of military sexual assault survivors for the organization.

Army veteran Liz Luras didn’t even get to make that choice. She says she was raped early in her career, about 15 years ago. The assault put her in the hospital, which triggered an investigation.

***

The U.S. military’s new top officer in the war in Afghanistan met with military chiefs from NATO nations Wednesday, offering in a closed-door meeting his assessment of a conflict that is nearly 15 years old, the Washington Post is reporting.

Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr.’s presented his assessment behind closed doors to dozens of senior military officers, including Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. Curtis “Mike” Scaparrotti, the new supreme allied commander of NATO. Nicholson did not appear at a news conference afterward, but Scaparrotti said that after hearing the war commander’s plan, Scaparrotti is in favor of an approach that would remove additional forces only as conditions on the ground allow.

“It’s a means to realize our objective of a stable and secure Afghanistan that is not a haven for terrorists any longer,” Scaparrotti said. “I think that’s what I take away from General Nicholson’s report, and I think it’s important that the [military chiefs] also heard it today.”

***

U.S. commanders talked the Iraqi government out of pulling troops from the field to defend Baghdad against suicide attacks coming from ISIS-held Fallujah and other militant strong points in Anbar province, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday, according to Military.com.

“As of today, we have not seen the Iraqi government redeploying troops to Baghdad,” Army Col. Steve Warren said. “There was some discussion of it but they changed their minds,” he said in a possible reflection of growing friction between the U.S. and Iraqi military and political officials on the U.S. plan to focus resources on retaking northwestern Mosul.

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, also said the Baghdad attacks posed a threat to the overall U.S. strategy. “If this is not addressed quickly, it could cause [the Baghdad government] to have to take action to divert forces and divert their political focus on that, as opposed to things like Mosul or finishing up their activities out in Anbar,” Votel told CNN.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

  Comments