Their View | Time to right a wrong to our veterans

As governor and a former member of the 28th Infantry Division in the Pennsylvania National Guard, I am deeply troubled and outraged by the recent reports of significant negligence and systemic delays in patient care for our country’s veterans throughout the Veterans Health Administration. The substandard and delayed medical care for thousands of veterans, and manipulation and destruction of records to cover up those delays, is disgraceful and unacceptable.

As a nation, it is our duty and obligation to provide the best care and services possible to those who have served us.

I recently visited Boalsburg — the birthplace of Memorial Day — to honor those who have given their lives for our country’s freedoms. There, I saw Lt. General David Grange Jr., who served in the U.S. Army for more than 40 years. He fought in three wars, and among his numerous decorations are three Silver Stars, a Soldier’s Medal and a Purple Heart. I was reminded of how much he and his family have given to this nation — and all our military families have given — to keep America beautiful, strong and free. I also was sadly reminded how his own federal government has let our country’s veterans down.

As reports emerged from across Pennsylvania that hundreds of veterans are being denied or delayed access to health care through the VHA, I mobilized my administration to coordinate a statewide effort to reach veterans and ensure their issues are being addressed at the highest levels of government. I encourage you to visit our new website, vaconcerns.pa.gov, for more information.

Additionally, along with other governors from across the country, I sent a letter to President Barack Obama last week expressing our outrage at the actions of the VHA for failing our veterans.

While the president’s decision to accept the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki was a first step, we noted that this change is merely the beginning of numerous reforms necessary to protect and care for our nation’s veterans.

We made the following requests of the president as a start to addressing the monumental problems at the VA:

1. Partner with states on VHA facilities’ reviews and reforms. We asked that states, in partnership with the Obama administration, be given the authority to conduct reviews of all VHA facilities and processes and recommend potential solutions. Given the claims that high-ranking VA officials, including Shinseki, were unaware of the critical nature and scope of problems at VA hospitals throughout the country, it is clear that a system for significant oversight is nonexistent. Pennsylvania and other states have professional, trained inspectors and staff, who have not been part of the current systemic crisis, who can conduct these reviews and offer solutions to ensure accounability is maintained.

2. Repurpose bonus dollars for direct health care block grants. We asked for immediate suspension of the current VHA bonus system until an appropriate review is conducted and proper oversight is established. Any federal funds currently appropriated for the bonus system should be reprogrammed to states through block grants, based upon the percentage of veterans in the state, to be used for direct health care of veterans through fee-for-service agreements.

3. Grant federal vouchers for non-VA health care. If veterans are unable to secure an appointment within 30 days from the VA, we asked that they be granted federal vouchers to seek care from other health care providers. Additionally, the health care providers should be assured that they will receive timely repayment from the federal government for the treatment that they provide.

The Obama administration has the ability and power to right this wrong and put the health and welfare of our country’s veterans first. These brave service members have earned our gratitude and appreciation. I sincerely urge the president to agree with these requests and allow Pennsylvania, along with other states, to assist with this reform process.