Editorial: Rooting out problems at VA hospitals

Published June 25, 2015

When dead rats start falling from the ceiling, that should be a sign. The three large, dead rats that workers found at Tampa's James A. Haley VA Medical Center last week are bad enough, but there are continuing systemic problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Haley needs to step up its pest control, and the federal government needs to step up its efforts to ensure that veterans promptly get the medical care they deserve.

Tampa Bay Times reporter William Levesque reported that the medical center had a rodent and insect problem. In addition to three rats falling from the ceiling, the facility was infested with cockroaches. Patients even found cockroaches on their food trays. These conditions should not be tolerated anywhere, particularly in one of the nation's busiest VA hospitals.

But the VA's issues stretch beyond pest control and are not as easily eradicated. Since attempts to obscure VA hospitals' appointment delays came to light last summer and then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki resigned, the agency has been slowly trying to rebuild its standing. But there are 50 percent more veterans than last year on waiting lists of one month or more, and VA physician workloads have increased by at least 18 percent across the country. That's moving backward, not forward.

Now the VA is seeking more money to address its backlogs, and Congress should respond. Veterans who have risked their lives in service of the nation should expect facilities that are free of rats — and they should not have to wait weeks for an appointment.