From the invasion of the Persian Gulf to the war in Afghanistan, the landscape of conflict and service-related, healthcare conditions which confront our veterans have evolved as well — the largest integrated healthcare provider in the nation, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been embroiled in scandal since 2015 and has provided insufficient reform in holding those responsible or to rectify the department’s wide-spread mismanagement.

Last Tuesday, March 5, President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order titled “National Initiative to Empower Veterans and End Veterans Suicide,” which focuses on improving the quality of life for America’s Veterans.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is uniquely positioned to co-chair this effort with the White House,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Veterans suicide is a national public health issue that affects communities everywhere, and this executive order is a national call to action.”

The executive order mandates the establishment of the Veteran Wellness, Empowerment and Suicide Prevention Task Force.

The task force will include the Secretaries of Defense, Health and Human Services, Energy, Homeland Security, Labor, Education, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman and Democratic California Congressman for the 41st District, Mark Takano, issued the following statement in response to the Administration’s new Executive Order: “While the Committee fully supports the intent of this executive order, we have questions about how the White House plans to implement this initiative at the same time that previous efforts to address veterans suicide remain outstanding.”

The committee oversees the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and veterans’ hospitals while enabling the VA to provide a full range of benefits and services to our nation’s veterans.

The group works with the VA to provide strategic and operational leadership in budget, financial management, risk management and asset enterprise management.

Takano added, “Sadly, too many barriers to access remain for at-risk veterans even though VA is a leader in research and is unrivaled in providing mental health services for veterans. We must press VA to utilize effective treatment strategies driven by evidence-based outcomes and strengthen oversight over community partnerships and grants even as the department operates under limited budgetary constraints.”

The obstructions politicians have created when attempting to deflect their uncompromising party objectives underscores the overall truth that the Veterans Health Administration has not made enough progress towards providing quality care for veterans.

Let us not forget, the call to arms in 2015 was initiated by a whistleblower who alleged that 40 veterans had died as a result of prolonged waits for care at the Phoenix, Ariz. VA branch.

In a subsequent investigation by the department’s Office of Inspector General, the findings confirmed almost 900,000 veterans in 2014 had pending applications and more than 300,000 of these belonged to veterans who had died.

It’s time for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to implement a VA system that works to deliver a quality healthcare system that works.

Takano delivered opening remarks before the first Full Committee Hearing entitled “VA2030: A Vision for the Future of the VA,” on Thursday, Feb. 28.

“What I hope to get out of this hearing is to lay the groundwork for a long-term vision for the future of VA.”

He acknowledged that his vision is twofold: VA must be a system that is easy to navigate — easy to enter with logical responses as veterans’ needs change or new needs arise.

“The second part of my vision is that VA catches up to the changing and new demographics of veterans and be nimble enough to adapt and respond as those demographics change,” Takano added. “In the same vein, we must evaluate VA’s programs and services to better serve women veterans, LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Question) community, and minority veterans.”

Agency officials pledge to work diligently to better serve veterans and that is a responsibility they do not take lightly. We all have a public duty to ensure the VA has effective bipartisan leadership required to provide quality, timely care for our veterans.

Patrick Shelby for the Sunnyside Sun editorial board. PShelby@sunnysidesun.com

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