Letter: Veterans Affairs needs aggressive problem solving

By Dr. Monica Wehby /

Every year millions of Americans gather on Memorial Day to honor those who are serving or who have served in our nation’s military. I had the opportunity to attend a heartfelt Memorial Day ceremony in Scappoose, followed by visits to La Grande, Baker City and Bend. At each gathering I heard countless stories of heroism, patriotism, love and dedication. Sadly, many of these stories end with our greatest heroes suffering from the impact of military service and a veterans’ health care system incapable of providing the treatment they so desperately need.

As a neurosurgical resident at a VA hospital, I was honored to attend to those who sacrificed everything to serve our country. I’ve seen firsthand the medical challenges our veterans face and the endless red tape they must cut through to receive the medical care they rightfully deserve. One soldier, through tears of frustration, told me he worried his conditions would never be treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. He feared the very government that he dedicated his life to serving. How did this happen? How have we gotten so off track?

I’m running for the United States Senate for several reasons, but one reason closest to my heart is making sure our heroes receive the finest medical treatment available. They have dedicated their lives to protecting us, and it’s time we show the same level of dedication back here at home.

As your next United States senator, I plan to aggressively fix the systematic problems that are plaguing the Department of Veterans Affairs.

We need to increase health care options for our veterans and allow them to receive treatment in a timely manner. I will fight for an option that allows veterans to seek treatment outside of clinics run by the VA. This will create greater flexibility and allow veterans to receive treatment that they need while avoiding the long wait times. This option will reduce the burden on a system that is already struggling to meet growing demands. If we give our veterans options, they will have the choice to go to a VA hospital or to a private hospital of their choice.

One way we can ensure veterans are treated faster is by updating the VA’s information technology system. According to the “Red Tape Report,” published by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the average wait time to complete a claim at the VA is 318 days. This is both embarrassing and heartbreaking. We need to expedite the transition from a paper-based system to an e-system, starting with the implementation of an online scheduling system. Furthermore, allowing the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran Affairs to develop an interoperable electronic health record to make file sharing easier will reduce wait times.

Finally, we need to implement an auditing process that allows for faster processing of claims. The IRS does not audit every claim, and Medicare does not investigate every doctor’s claim, so why should the VA investigate every claim it receives? The process needs to be revamped to only include the auditing of a sample of claims, not the entirety of claims made. With a backlog that numbers in the hundreds of thousands, this is a viable short-term solution that can be implemented soon.

Although there are many problems facing the Department of Veteran Affairs, I remain optimistic. My entire career as a doctor has been dedicated to diagnosing symptoms and working toward a cure. Our brave women and men in the military gave us their best; it’s time we end the bipartisan blame game, roll up our sleeves and give back to them the very best we have to offer. I intend to do just that when elected to serve the great state of Oregon in the United States Senate.

— Dr. Monica Wehby is an Oregon candidate for U.S. Senate.