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Editorial: Rural hospitals serve vets
By David Pearson
News media accounts of the Veterans Administration health-care situation are disheartening and it appears that a great disservice has been done to some of our veterans who have served their country. In light of the evolving situation, Texas rural hospitals and clinics are more than willing to step up and provide top quality health care to these veterans on a local basis if Congress will let them. The rural factor is especially important because a disproportionate number of veterans are from rural areas. In the case of Texas and across the country, 15 percent of the population live in rural areas; however, 40 percent of the veterans are from rural areas.
The unfolding VA hospital drama brings to light another issue. For the most part, the Veterans Administration forces veterans to travel past their local physicians and hospitals, sometimes driving hundreds of miles to a VA facility. While the VA is sometimes willing to contract with local hospitals for limited services, those contracts are complicated and convoluted, and payments offered to the hospitals are far too low. Some services are not available locally, but when they are, don’t we have a duty to our veterans to try and make their lives a little easier?
We think Congress should give thought to a system where veterans can see the doctor or hospital of their choice (within reason, of course) and the VA act more like an insurance company -- paying providers directly like it does for military retirees. Why continue to carry on with a duplicative health-care system that pushes a great inconvenience on to our veterans, especially those living in remote rural areas.
The hospital in Childress cites an excellent example where veterans in this northwest Texas community must drive past their hospital to Amarillo (250 miles round trip) for a CT Scan. While the VA does pay for their mileage, there is no factor for time and inconvenience. Besides, waiting to get a CT done at an approved VA facility is probably longer and the service more costly, than in Childress. So why not just let Childress perform the scan and pay them for the work? Keeping such services local is better for the patient and the facility. It’s a win-win.
Perhaps the VA facilities should primarily serve the veterans in their immediate vicinity where there is a higher concentration of patients. Or we might consider an alternative coverage model that leverages programs that have proven to be more efficient and effective, like Medicare. Congress could act on either option, but we must do something to ensure rural veterans have access to health care that is safe, timely, and closer to home. We owe them that much.
One thing is certain, Texas rural hospitals are ready to do our part, if and when Congress needs us to.
David Pearson is the president and CEO of the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals in Austin.
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