I’m not one to throw stones but I’m about to. What’s going on in the VA Health System is a mess and it could have been avoided with a little planning and common sense. As I said, I’m not one to throw stones. Health care is hard work and it’s difficult to see around corners which makes it hard to anticipate the future but in the case of the VA the writing was on the wall and the veterans who proudly and bravely served our country deserve to get the care they need in a timely manner.
I could type for hours about some of the problems with the VA system but the biggest problem is wait time. The VA system consists of 151 hospitals and 827 outpatient clinics and serves nearly 8.8 million vets and qualifying family members. The services provided by the VA are great IF you can get an appointment to be seen. There is a huge demand for services and the VA isn’t prepared to meet the need. The problem with the situation is that the demand should have, and could have, been anticipated and planned for.
Vietnam era vets make up almost a third of the nations 23 million veterans and the 7.5 million Vietnam vets are baby boomers approaching retirement age which are their high health care utilization years. There is also a group of post 9/11 veterans who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and this group is almost as big totalling 6.2 million veterans. It’s simple math, the more veterans, the more demand for VA health services yet the system failed to prepare for the increased demand.
In 2013 the VA system registered 5.7 million patients, a half million more than a decade ago. It’s anticipated that the number of veterans trying to access care at VA facilities will continue to rise yet until last year. Until last year funding for the VA’s care budget hadn’t increased any faster than the general rate of medical inflation even though it was clear that demand was on the rise. Poor planning.
When VA hospital administrators began to sound the alarm and advocate for their patients their concerns fell on deaf ears. Those closest to the problem weren’t able to gain an audience with congress until a break point was reached. I wonder if the problems in the VA are a sign of things to come in the health care industry as a whole. The population is aging, baby boomers are reaching retirement, provider recruitment is becoming more difficult because fewer people are choosing medicine as a career and funding for Medicare is being reduced. The VA health system may be a study of what’s to come with the health system as a whole in the US.