Outside editorial: Red tape exposed in care of vets

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Miami Herald:

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The appointment of University of Miami President Donna Shalala and former Sen. Bob Dole to head the inquiry into military health care is the best news to come out of this shameful scandal so far. Neither is likely to accept phony explanations about why wounded and traumatized veterans have been treated with such appalling neglect. Both are proven public servants, unlikely to settle for anything less than concrete solutions to the problem of how to ensure that veterans get the best medical care.

The bipartisan panel should look at the entire military health care system. There are shortcomings almost everywhere.

Just before the Iraq invasion, for example, the government changed the rules to reduce the number of veterans entitled to enroll in the veterans' health care system. Traumatic brain injuries, the ones caused by improvised explosive devices in Iraq, can't be properly treated or even evaluated in many VA hospitals. And Congress is investigating reports that privatization efforts at Walter Reed may have led to the management staff being cut to fewer than 60 from 300 earlier this year.

This from an administration that, at the same time it was shortchanging veterans, was sending billions of dollars in cash to Iraq - and today can't account for the money. Providing better treatment may mean pumping more money into the system. No taxpayer will begrudge this expense. It also means installing better leadership at the Walter Reed facility and the VA. The overhaul of Federal Emergency Management Agency after New Orleans could be a model of how to do it

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