June 12, 2014
By AFGE President J. David Cox Sr.
Washington, DC – The public's outrage over excessive wait times and rigged recordkeeping at Veterans Affairs hospitals is more than justified. As a former VA nurse, I understand all too well that depriving veterans of timely access to care is a disservice to them and their sacrifice to this nation.
But cleaning house in the VA's executive ranks will only treat the symptom. The disease plaguing the VA healthcare system is chronic understaffing of physicians and other frontline providers. Until we fill thousands of vacant positions, open closed hospital beds and provide more dollars for building and maintaining medical facilities, we will never heal what ails the VA.
Physicians are dealing with excessive caseloads and insufficient support staff. Since 2009, 2 million veterans entered the VA health care system for a net increase of 1.4 million new patients. Each physician should be responsible for no more than 1,200 patients at a given time, according to the VA's own guidelines, yet many VA doctors are treating upwards of 2,000 patients each.
The waitlist and understaffing issues are one and the same. Until Congress gives the VA the resources to hire enough frontline clinicians to meet demand, our veterans will continue to face long waits. And to be clear, sending veterans to expensive health care providers outside the VA system on a massive scale will not fix the underlying resource deficiencies plaguing our veterans medical centers.
According to the Independent Budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs, developed each year by leading veterans groups, the Veterans Health Administration is facing a $2 billion funding shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year and another $500 million shortfall for fiscal 2016.
It's time for the VA to get back to basics and focus on improving access to care for our nation's veterans.
*** J. David Cox Sr. is national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 670,000 federal and D.C. government employees nationwide