Occasionally I write a column that strikes a nerve. Such is the case with my last column on veterans care (http://tinyurl.com/hcafs65).
I received numerous emails and phone calls not only thanking me for the article, but asking the logical question “what next?” It is easy to point out the issues of concern, but we would be remiss if we do not identify solutions.
One of the striking concerns regarding the current veterans care chaos is that we seem to have an extremely difficult time streamlining the process. Veterans are literally dying trying to make their way through the vast maze we have created. There are more than 60,000 employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs and 19,000 of them make more than $180,000. The harsh reality is that bureaucrats create jobs, not improve service. Yet New Hampshire may be perfectly suited to serve as a test model to improve veterans care.
There are four key issues preventing us from fulfilling our commitment to our veterans: identify those in need, provide a simple pathway to the needed services, build facilities to provide those services, and constant and compassionate communication throughout the process. The VA is failing at every one of these junctions. Now is the time for an intervention, led by the states, supported by the federal government, and working in concert with private and nonprofit entities.
New Hampshire has an incredible opportunity to lead on the issue of veterans care, and lead we must. There are several factors that work to New Hampshire’s benefit and one factor that would hinder our leadership on this issue.
The first factor that could work in favor of our veterans is that we do not have a full-time VA hospital, yet we have one of the highest veterans per capita to general population ratio in the country. The VA seems content with packing our vets on shuttles and shipping them out of state to facilities in Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and farther. The time and distance is a major stress for the veterans and their families, and makes absolutely no sense. Why would we ask our heroes to suffer this indignation, when our elected officials are treated to gold-plated health care coverage and a “low cost clinic” at Capitol Hill? The lack of a federal facility, yet a large customer base means we would be free to seek innovative approaches to veterans care.
The next factor that benefits our veterans is the political power we yield. Both of our current U.S. senators, Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen serve on the extremely powerful Senate Armed Services Committee. Both senators also hold a great amount of influence within their parties. It also does not hurt that we are the First-in-the-Nation primary state. It is time we bring these powers to bear.
The final factor is that New Hampshire has one of the strongest private and nonprofit health care structures in the country. We have the facilities, the expertise and the desire as a state to be the solution. With approximately 33 hospitals, and countless ready care facilities throughout the state, we have a health care infrastructure ready to help. In fact, many of the hospitals have been screaming for years that they want to serve our veterans, which has sadly fallen on deaf ears. Some hospitals have been brought together to form Hospitals for Heroes.
Hospitals for Heroes is the recent brainchild of two of the greatest veterans advocates I am proud to know, my fellow radio host Jack Heath and humanitarian Renee Plummer. The concept is simple, gather the medical community together and advocate for change so that “our veterans will know that they have non-VA options close to their homes.” After hearing “direct accounts from veterans that the VA and Health Net are making it difficult to schedule appointments and procedures approved locally,” Heath and Plummer reached out to their vast contacts and in short order have started the type of innovative, grassroots movement that will change how we look at veterans care, not only in New Hampshire, but across the country.
Hospitals for Heroes has declared July 4, 2016, Independence Day for New Hampshire Veterans, and is working on promoting a series of founding principles to help our local veterans, such as:
To get as many New Hampshire hospitals and non-VA Care providers as possible to publicly state they want to care for local veterans.
To advocate that the VA and Health Net quickly approve local appointments and provider coverage in less than 30 days.
To ensure that in New Hampshire, veterans have several local hospitals to choose from for surgeries and procedures minutes from their homes.
To create an aggressive public outreach to let local veterans know they are accepted for care and their providers are pre-approved for coverage.
To work together (hospitals, elected officials, and Hospitals for Heroes) to ensure the VA and Health Net continue to approve appointments and follow ups and provider coverage payments in a timely manner without delays.
To mandate that the VA and Health Net agree publicly to speed up and simplify the initial process to get procedures and surgeries approved once a VA or non-VA primary care physician determines a veteran needs said procedure.
Hospitals for Heroes speaks for all New Hampshire families when they state that we can “no longer accept having our local veterans be shipped to Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts for basic procedures and surgeries that can be performed at local hospitals for less cost and less discomfort for the veterans and their families.”
Hospitals for Heroes is exactly the type of innovation I was talking about, and a clear example of what I mean when I say New Hampshire is ready and able to lead on the issue of veterans care. This leads me to the one factor that could hinder our efforts: the lack of a sincere, collective commitment as a society to honor our veterans and their families.
Red tape, a federal-state power struggle, and two failed VA care bills (with a third on the way) have only made matters worse. But together as a people, we can finally provide the care our vets and their families deserve.
I will be providing more information about Hospital for Heroes in the coming months.