Monday, April 23, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Bill a solid step toward VA turnaround

The nearly $17 billion federal plan to overhaul the Department of Veteran's Affairs that President Barack Obama signed into law last week is a solid step toward turning around an agency plagued by scandal and inadequate treatment of veterans. The effort is designed to reduce patient wait times, hire more doctors and nurses and open additional VA medical facilities around the county. Along with the unanimous confirmation of new VA Secretary Robert McDonald, the deal puts veterans first and begins the long process of providing efficient service to patients and restoring accountability to the troubled agency.

The Veterans Access Choice and Accountability Act allocates $10 billion to ensure that veterans are seen quickly by doctors. It allows veterans who live more than 40 miles away from a VA medical center or who have been on a waiting list for longer than 30 days to seek treatment from a non-VA facility. The bill also set aside $5 billion to hire more doctors and nurses and another $1.5 billion to open 27 major medical centers throughout the country, including up to $11.9 million for a facility in New Port Richey.

The legislation was created in response to a scandal that rocked the VA last spring when records revealed that the agency failed to provide doctor's appointments to veterans in a timely fashion. Nationwide some 57,000 veterans waited more than 90 days to see a doctor. Some died before being seen. To conceal slipshod practices and lengthy waiting lists, VA workers created fake appointments for veterans. When veterans didn't show up, their appointments were rescheduled and the waiting began again.

The compromise is not perfect, and there is plenty of room for improvement down the road. But for now, VA leaders should ensure that patients who need specialty care from VA doctors are not shunted off to private physicians who lack the expertise to treat complex military service-related conditions. They must make sure veterans don't get lost in a private system meant to serve as a temporary stopgap measure while the VA increases its offerings. The legislation also doesn't address the antiquated computer scheduling system at the heart of the waiting list scandal. And it institutes a provision that makes it easier to fire senior level executives for poor performance that offers possibilities for both reforms and abuses.

Congress acted in a bipartisan way to address the VA's systemic problems, but its work is not done. The compromise agreement is $1 billion short of what VA leadership said was needed to revamp the agency. Congress should find the money to close the gap and remain committed to closely monitoring the VA as it implements the new legislation. Veterans, who have earned their government health benefits because of their service to the nation, deserve nothing less.

Comments

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18