By Tom Daschle and Trent Lott
While we served on opposite sides of the aisle during many contentious debates in the U.S. Senate, we have also come together to speak out on issues of bipartisan national importance. One is that our veterans deserve the best health care our nation can provide—and the Department of Veterans Affairs can do more to make that a reality.
Part of the problem is a matter of resources, and another part is due to policies the law requires. Those are appropriately matters for Congress to address. Yet many noteworthy obstacles to progress are entirely within the authority of VA officials to remove right now. Identifying and acting on them should be Job One at the VA.
Case in point: certain surgical and pain-management treatments have been subject to scheduling delays that can be debilitating or even life-threatening to veterans. That’s because the VA has a chronic shortage of anesthesia providers. Yet a solution is readily available: VA officials can give their advanced practice nurses in this area the same authority they have to treat patients throughout our military health care systems (which are separate from the VA) and in many states.
Today, wait times for pain care in California can spiral to 63 days. VA facilities in other states simply inform veterans “no appointments available.” In Kansas, veterans can wait 297 days for a gastrointestinal procedure. And in Virginia, an oncology appointment can take over 66 days—if a vet can get one at all.
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