The current scandal over excessive waiting times at Veterans Administration hospitals is deeply perplexing to the men and women who served their country and are seeking medical care. But it soon may become an issue that affects an even wider population.
Regardless whether Eric Shinseki, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, stays or leaves, the big question looming on the horizon is whether it makes financial and medical sense to expand the VA system or migrate veterans into the broader health care delivery system.
Congressional hearings are terrific platforms to air concerns and identify inadequacies. Upcoming hearings on the VA system will be filled with high rhetoric, especially after an Inspector General report released this week indicated the average waiting time at the Phoenix VA Hospital was 125 days, not the 25 days VA officials there reported.
But it will take a different kind of energy to assess whether veterans and the general public would benefit by integrating the VA system into the overall health care system. Key questions will involve whether the VA has the ability to hire and retain all the medical providers it needs, especially psychiatrists and psychologists to treat veterans experiencing symptoms of mental illness. But there also is a question of whether there is enough capacity anywhere in the health care system to address mental health needs.
At a time when an emphasis is being placed on reducing the length of hospital stays and preventing hospital re-admissions for patients with chronic illnesses, does it make sense to build more VA hospital facilities?
Would the addition of typically younger military veterans help provide greater stability to a larger insurance pool as America moves closer to some form of universal coverage?
These and other questions won't be voiced prominently in hearings and forums in the immediate future, but they have great bearing on what should be done to make sure veterans get the medical care they have been promised.