Quick work needed to fix VA mess | May 20, editorial
Four areas for improved VA care
Without the implementation of major changes, replacing the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary will not right the ship. There are several changes that could be initiated that would diminish the problem:
• Eligibility: Revisit eligibility requirements. I am a 26-year Navy veteran and 15-year VA maxillofacial surgeon and I am eligible as a Category 8 patient for VA care. Considering my significant retirement benefits and the VA patient overload, it makes no sense for me to be eligible. I have no service-connected conditions. A stricter means test should be used to screen out those veterans who can easily afford care in the community, especially those with Medicare and Tricare for Life. Of course, any service-connected conditions should be eligible for treatment regardless of income.
• Prioritize: If there must be a waiting list, patients with known urgent medical conditions should be seen immediately. When a veteran presents to the ER, he or she should be triaged and either treated immediately or given an appointment based on the seriousness of the condition. Currently, many appointments are scheduled by clerks without consultation with physicians.
• Goals: Do not demand unrealistic goals, and eliminate administrative bonuses. When bonuses are based on administratively unattainable goals, those goals will be met — one way or another. This process will trigger false reporting as has been amply demonstrated. Administrators should not receive bonuses for merely doing their job. It is up to Congress to see that they have the resources to do that job.
• Termination authority: Lastly, provide the VA with the authority to terminate people for poor performance. Currently, senior executive service employees cannot be seriously disciplined or fired for negligence unless numerous union and VA conditions are met.
Sen. Marco Rubio has introduced in the Senate the VA Management Accountability Act of 2014, which gets rid of these hurdles and gives the VA secretary authority to fire employees and hold them accountable.
Let's hope it passes.
Capt. Frank Kepley, U.S. Navy (Ret.), Sun City Center
Florida's urgent need for pot rules May 18, editorial
Safe, affordable access
We agree that an early move toward clarifying the outlines of a post-Amendment 2 medical marijuana system would be positive. Much of the opposition to Amendment 2 comes from opponents who either ignore the text of the amendment or presuppose that the state will abdicate responsibility and implement a loosely regulated, California-style system — a result that no one paying attention believes will actually take place.
However, any implementation scheme should be conducted by the state Department of Health in conjunction with patient advocates and officials from other states with functioning medical marijuana systems in place, not by the politicians in the Legislature. The experience of SB 1030 — the bill for limited legalization to treat seizures — tells us that the Legislature will play politics with medical marijuana rather than try to put forward a system that actually works for those who need it.
Recent legislation is simply too restrictive, too politically motivated and is filled with special interest concerns rather than patient concerns. While forming a strong system for Florida, safe, affordable patient access should be the primary focus.
A sound medical marijuana implementation scheme should weigh three factors: broad and affordable patient access, a strictly controlled regulatory structure, and a robust but regulated free-market commercial environment.
So while we agree that the state should begin considering how a potential system would work, it would behoove those involved to look to the example of other states that have gone through this process, not to the craven political and lobbying interests that have written SB 1030.
Ben Pollara, campaign manager, United for Care, Coral Gables
Beer distributor buys into solar | May 17
Reaping solar benefits
It is with great interest and renewed encouragement that I read about Great Bay Distributors' decision to install solar arrays to help offset its electric bills. Contrary to what the politicians in Tallahassee would have you think, solar power is here and ready to be tapped into. Great Bay Distributors should be heralded as a state champion in its forward, positive thinking regarding the use of a free resource abundantly available in Florida. Equally progressive are the other companies mentioned that have already made the investment and are reaping the benefits.
From a personal perspective, solar will become a deciding factor in whether to stay and retire in Florida, where the political climate is currently too frigid to consider retrofitting our house in Largo to make it eco-friendly, or move to New Mexico, where the Land of Enchantment embraces our ideology as to how we live and respect our natural resources.
Peter Burer, Largo
U.S. students lag behind, but that's not new May 19
Classrooms in turmoil
Having taught school for 35 years, I already knew U.S. students lagged behind their counterparts in the rest of the world. Teachers know this because they are on the front lines — in the classrooms. They can tell you why without a Ph.D. in educational philosophy.
Years ago, people would say, "I behaved in school. I knew if I didn't, I'd be in twice as much trouble when I got home." No more. Now mom and dad call the school to complain about the teacher — or seek the advice of an attorney. Just one misbehaving student can disrupt a whole class. Many people entering teaching do not make it through the year. Teachers have no control.
Students make good grades for simply being there. There is a vast amount of documentation and discrimination against teachers who apply the "bell curve" to their grading. The more A's and B's you hand out, the better your evaluation.
Yes, learning can be fun and exciting. But it also can be hard work. U.S. educational leaders think everything should be fun and games. Teachers have been given low evaluations for having high expectations of their students.
If you don't believe me, come sit in on a class somewhere. How long would you last as a teacher in an unteachable situation?
Melanie Woods, Palm Harbor