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Editorial: Abolish veterans hospitals

It is long past time to dissolve the abysmal veterans health care system and allow veterans to be absorbed into the private sector. The recent story about a veteran who died at the Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center is yet another example of a system gone wrong.

Call it underfunding, understaffing, poor oversight. It doesn’t matter. It is inexcusable. A man who served this country died at the Buffalo VA, an institution that is supposed to help – not harm – the men and women who have served this nation.

The Buffalo VA is not the worst offender. Treatment at some VA hospitals across the country has been appalling. Veterans are already allowed to see private doctors in certain cases but that practice should have been expanded long ago. Now it is time to abandon this broken model.

The horrible incident here was revealed in a report by the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General’s Office. Medical personnel failed to try to resuscitate a patient suffering cardiac arrest in late 2016. They pronounced him dead even though they made no effort and should have to try to save his life.

Veterans should never be asked to serve this country – sometimes facing battle – only to survive, come home and, at some point in their lives, either suffer injury or death because of lax care at the VA Medical Center. The system is not worth saving when the private sector already does a much better job.

Privatizing veterans health care has been an interest for the Trump administration. White House officials want to move more aggressively toward privatization. Current secretary, Dr. David Shulkin, who according to news reports may be fired any day, has taken a more moderate position.

The current system is indefensible. The problems have been rife across the country. A few years ago, veterans were found to be dying while waiting for appointments to see physicians at a veterans hospital in Phoenix, which hid its scheduling difficulties. It was a nationwide problem in which thousands of veterans had to wait more than three months for medical appointments, and thousands of others were enrolled for treatment without ever being seen by a doctor.

The Buffalo VA Medical Center has had its own string of controversies. Besides this unbelievably egregious situation in which a veteran died in late 2016, there were the revelations several months ago that 526 patients at the VA hospital could have been put at risk because of improperly cleaned medical scopes. There have been other instances in which the Buffalo VA Medical Center has come under fire for wait times, improper documentation for the needles and poor sanitation. This latest situation is the worst.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General’s Office issued a report in which it said a registered nurse and respiratory therapist acted outside their scope and failed to do their jobs. The report said that the patient did not receive immediate life-sustaining treatment following the determination by staff that the patient was unresponsive. The two employees implicated left their jobs. Hospital officials said they were disciplined in response to the report.

Appropriately enraged members of Congress who serve the Buffalo area should lead the way in dismantling this broken system.

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