EDITORIAL: Reform unaccountable Veterans Affairs

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, a holiday to thank our living veterans, who bravely took on the job of defending freedoms we sometimes take for granted. There are about 22 million veterans in America today, one for every 14 residents, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find somebody to offer a handshake.

Something else that shouldn’t be so difficult: making absolutely certain those veterans are taken care of, particularly when it comes to their physical and mental health. Yet there are far too many stories about the difficulties that America’s finest men and women encounter in getting care after their military careers have ended. Nevada’s veterans are not immune to those issues.

On Thursday, Reps. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Jon Runyan, R-N.J. — both members of the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee — held a hearing in Las Vegas to address the massive backlog of disability and compensation claims in the Reno Veterans Affairs office. As reported by the Review-Journal’s Keith Rogers, the stack of two-year-old claims has been chopped down to a one-year backlog. Still, as Rep. Titus noted: “The office currently has 5,813 claims pending. Of these, 56 percent are backlogged, which means they have been pending 125 days or longer. This translates to more than 3,200 claims pending.” And that’s with a 90-member staff at the Reno office.

Rep. Titus has been a fierce advocate for veterans and deserves credit for acting on their complaints and raising awareness of the backlog, both here and in Washington. As the backlog in Reno shows, the federal government has failed too many veterans, especially the newly discharged from our military, which number about 2.8 million nationwide since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Rep. Titus remains rightly skeptical of the reported progress in Reno, because veterans in Southern Nevada aren’t exactly living a charmed life.

Even with the opening of the new VA hospital in North Las Vegas — a gorgeous facility that cost far too much and took far too long to complete — the delivery of care remains problematic. Veterans still endure long waits to see doctors.

What’s needed going forward is massive VA reform. Anybody who thinks a single-payer system is the answer to this country’s health insurance issues — and many still believe that to be true, especially after the awful rollout of Obamacare — need only look at the unaccountable VA system to see that nationalized care is not a viable solution.

We’d do our veterans a far better service by providing them with private-sector health plans or vouchers they could use at any doctor’s office or hospital. Our veterans didn’t make the ultimate sacrifice, but they have sacrificed a great deal. They deserve nothing less than the best health care this country can deliver. And as the VA, Obamacare and many other federal programs have proved, the government isn’t capable of meeting the unique demands of millions of people in a timely fashion.

Happy Veterans Day.

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