EDITORIAL: VA ratings

The incompetence and dysfunction at the Department of Veterans Affairs might be somewhat laughable if the VA wasn’t tasked with serving our veterans — and if veterans hadn’t died as a direct result of agency malfeasance.

But finally some good news from the department. The VA has finally released quality-of-care ratings for its medical centers across the nation.

The move followed an investigation earlier this month by USA Today that, for the first time, revealed ratings for 146 VA medical centers. Hospitals run by the VA are graded on a five-point system, but for years, the agency refused to share those grades with the public. VA Secretary Bob McDonald even complained that publication of the data caused “unwarranted distress” to veterans and could dissuade them from getting care.

However, according to an internal memo obtained by USA Today, the agency has since posted updated ratings on its website, including indicators as to whether hospitals are improving or declining. This marks the first time the public has been able to see how their local VA medical centers have fared over time.

The VA rates hospitals on numerous factors, including death and infection rates and wait times.

The numbers show VA facilities in Albuquerque, Detroit and Los Angeles received the lowest rating of one star as of June 30. Meanwhile, 17 hospitals —including those in Boston, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh — earned five stars.

The Las Vegas facility received two stars, an improvement over its previous one-star mark.

In this era of heightened political division, the VA’s decision to the release the data has been rightly applauded by both Democrats and Republicans.

“I am glad to see these ratings finally made public,” said Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., who pushed for the release of the statistics for more than a year. “This not only helps veterans know basic information about their health care options, it allows stakeholders in the community and members of Congress to demand better of the VA when improvement is needed.”

USA Today’s investigation caused Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., to write to the VA, demanding the release of five years’ worth of ratings.

“It shouldn’t take news reports and public pressure for the VA to make these ratings available to the public,” she said. “These are important tools for veterans and the community to see quality of care at the hospitals they depend on.”

Reps. Roby and Dingell are right: The VA should have released this data long ago. The agency’s excuses for secrecy were pure rubbish designed to shield the department from embarrassment. If VA officials hope to reclaim the public’s trust, increased transparency must be a top priority.

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