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Good news about the healthcare of Texas veterans

Olin Teague Veterans’ Medical Center
Olin Teague Veterans’ Medical Center
Olin Teague Veterans’ Medical Center

As with most scandals dealing with the U.S. Government, the truth about the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare scandal painfully continues to dribble out.

On June 11, a devastating report showed The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) suspended a program “that between 2005 and 2011 sent medical quality experts to try to improve the way patients were being treated at hospitals where death rates or medical complications were unusually high.” It could be argued that the current scheduling scandal would have been detected and fixed years ago if the program was still in operation.

Negative information on the VA scandal here in Texas also continues to be revealed. On June 10, 2014, an audit of four VA hospitals (Amarillo, Dallas, El Paso and Harlingen) “ranked among the worst for wait times.” However, the Austin Outpatient Clinic “was among 115 centers identified as needing “further review” because data may have been falsified.” It is unknown how much time this review will take.

But now, there is good news about the healthcare of veterans here in Texas.

Recent VA emails describing falsification of data were provided to the Austin American-Statesman by a whistleblower. These in-house messages verify an earlier allegation by Dr. Joseph Spann, a 17-year former employee of the VA Austin Outpatient Clinic. He told investigators the chief of radiology at the VA’s Olin Teague Veterans’ Medical Center in Temple, Texas, about 60 miles north of Austin, “regularly asked physicians to change their requested date for ultrasounds, MRIs and CT scans to hide the existence of long backlogs for tests.” Dr. Spann can rest easier now that his claims have been proven to be true.

While visiting Fort Hood, Texas, on June 12, 2014, Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) outlined an innovative program that partnered various Texas private and public hospital organizations in treating veterans who have been subjected to extensive wait times by the VA. Two of the organizations are The University of Texas Health Institutions and the Baylor Scott and White Healthcare System.

Perry's proposal provides reimbursement to the healthcare providers with Medicare funds. Perry said, "There is no greater charge than taking care of those who have served in our nation's Armed Forces, which is why we are working to offer alternatives for veterans who have found their federal options lacking, or worse, nonexistent." The possible downside of this agreement is that it will require approval by federal government which might affect the timeliness of getting this program started.

At the June 12, 2014 meeting of the Texas State Senate’s Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee meeting in Pasadena, Texas, legislators proposed “to set up a hotline for veterans looking for assistance in setting up medical appointments with the VA.” Thomas Palladino, Executive Director of the Texas Veterans Commission told committee members, “We can get this up and going by the end of the month. The procedures are already in place.”

On another positive note, Hays County, Travis County's (Austin, Texas) southern neighbor, established a court separate from the Hays County Commissioners Court. The purpose of the court is to adjudicate veterans charged with minor legal infractions while they were suffering from various mental health issues. Jude Prather, Hays County Veteran Services Officer, said, “The Veterans Court program is designed to provide services and supervision to veterans with a diagnosed substance abuse and/or mental health issue and improve access to needed treatment and services for jailed veterans.”

In the mean time, Congress has been working furiously to pass bills supporting veterans. The latest news on June 11, 2014, include the Senate passing the House bill that allows veterans to seek private healthcare outside the VA (under reasonable conditions) and the House passing a bill that expands veterans' eligibility for food stamps.

Now that the FBI has joined an investigation into the wait times at the VA on the national level, we veterans will stay tuned while this scandal continues to unfold. Surely it will soon begin to wind down, right?