VA Gets a Thumbs-Up

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VA Secretary Eric Shinseki visits with Philadelphia VA Medical Center patient Mikal Muhammad Sabir, an Air Force veteran, in May.

There’s lots of grumbling about the Department of Veterans Affairs from veterans – and its own inspector general, who regularly turns out critical reports.

So it’s worth noting when someone seems satisfied.

It’s tough to imagine a more important someone to the VA than the American Legion, whose 2.4 million members makes it the nation’s largest veterans’ organization. The Legion visited 25 VA facilities last spring and, in a just-released report that includes assessments of each facility, praised the “high quality of care” that it found.

“Patient satisfaction has seen drastic improvements in the past decade,” the Legion reports. “However challenges still exist.”

Those challenges include vets’ delays in getting appointments, a lengthy hiring process (of growing concern because at some VA facilities half the workforce is at retirement age) and medical salaries that fall short of what’s available in the private sector.

Ron Capps, an Army veteran and Battleland contributor, points out that the VA is really two huge agencies – one running hospitals and the other administering disability benefits (and yes, a tiny third part that runs veterans’ cemeteries). “In my opinion, VA health care is mostly excellent,” Capps says. “The big issues at the VA aren’t in the Veterans Health Administration — the health care side of the department. They are in the other side, the Veterans Benefits Administration. That’s where the unreasonable delays in processing disability claims and benefits, or providing benefits under the new GI Bill exist. The VBA has some big pieces that are broken.”

A former senior VA official, speaking privately, found the report heartening. “Sure, there is still much to do, and VA isn’t getting some things right,” he said. “But overall, the days of stereotypical uncaring bureaucrats providing shoddy service are long past.”