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Our veterans deserve real reform at VA

It’s been two years since the nationwide scandal at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs first erupted, yet veterans across the country still continue to face excessive waits for care. Las Vegas is no exception. No less than 13 percent of veterans with appointments scheduled last month were waiting more than 30 days for a medical appointment.

Meanwhile, administrators have continued to downplay the significance of the agency’s problem.

Recently, VA Secretary Robert McDonald even argued that Disney doesn’t use wait times to measure performance, so neither should his agency.

By any standard, however, wait times do measure performance. And the wait times for veterans reflect very poor performance — nearly half a million veterans nationwide last month faced that same, long wait of over 30 days.

But here in Las Vegas, wait times aren’t the only issue.

In January we learned that the North Las Vegas suicide hotline actually instructed veterans in crisis to hang up and try another number. It wasn’t a small glitch, either. The VA had been aware of the problem since at least May 2015 and did nothing.

With issue after issue, it’s no wonder that thousands of veterans have chosen to avoid the controversy at VA facilities and use their Choice Card benefits, which allow them to see outside health-care providers. But now these veterans, too, are facing issues due to VA incompetence.

Under the Choice Program, the agency is supposed to reimburse physicians who provide care to veterans outside of the VA system. Yet the agency has done so in an unreasonably slow process — they paid less than 70 percent of claims within 30 days, and some doctors have waited as long as six months for payment.

The delayed payments have led a number of private physicians to reschedule important surgeries while some have opted to deny appointments to Choice recipients altogether.

The VA’s constant failures certainly can’t be blamed on a lack of funding — its budget has increased 68 percent since President Obama took office. But this money isn’t necessarily going to health care. In fact, of the 39,454 new positions created at the agency between 2012 and 2015, more than 90 percent were non-medical jobs.

The agency has also spent money on a number of wasteful projects while our nation’s veterans continue to wait for care. Our new Las Vegas medical facility went $400 million over its initial budget. What’s more, we recently learned that $325,000 was spent on three guard booths at the hospital’s entrances that have gone unused.

The fact is, the VA continues to throw money away while veterans continue to suffer.

This trend of wasteful and inefficient spending is far too common in Washington. Our nation now has a record national debt of more than $19 trillion. Careless spending by Washington politicians and bureaucrats is even beginning to undermine the very security our veterans fought to protect.

Much of this debt comes from the Department of Defense itself. The department is rife with wasteful and inefficient spending, all the while the military often struggles to provide our troops with the supplies needed to perform their daily duties.

This is not what veterans deserve after putting their lives on the line for the safety of our country.

It’s time for Nevada veterans to demand real change.

We must make sure that VA administrators acknowledge the problems at the agency’s facilities. At the same time, we must urge our lawmakers to pass legislation to reform the VA by holding problem staff accountable for their actions and by providing our veterans with more options for better care.

Our veterans risked their lives for us. It’s time they receive the timely and quality care they deserve.

Join the Defend Freedom Tour in Las Vegas this Saturday evening. There, we’ll organize around our shared respect for veterans’ courage, and channel our outrage into a movement for change.

Leo Garcia is Nevada state director of Concerned Veterans for America.

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