The Veterans Affairs Department has been under attack for a range of fundamental problems. Fudging the numbers on wait times, access to quality health care, physician shortages, and backlogs for disability claims are among the accusations. Not to mention the staggering numbers of veterans who return to homelessness, suicide and difficulty in work force integration.

These fundamental problems are not fixed by the resignation of V.A. Chief Eric Shinseki. None of these issues will be fixed quickly for our veterans who deserve excellence in health care.

As part of my psychiatry residency training I formerly worked at a V.A. Hospital where I found the diligence and quality of the staff to be exceptional. The quality of care does not appear to be the major issue from what I’ve heard from friends and patients in the V.A. system – the problem is accessing all of that great care.

The number of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are surging, making it near impossible to keep up with the demand.

Two solutions; incentivize medical professionals through loan forgiveness and expand Medicare coverage to include all veterans.

The former solution offers eager professionals a chance to launch their careers without fear of insurmountable debt and bankruptcy while providing veterans with access to qualified and earnest medical personnel. The rewards are mutual.

The latter solution, if enacted by Congress, gives veterans a choice between the V.A. system for care and any other doctor who participates in Medicare. More options equals more access. And Medicare, approaching its 50th anniversary as one of the most successful federal programs ever developed, seems the most appropriate choice for our worthy veterans.

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About the Author

Helen M. Farrell, M.D.

Helen M. Farrell, M.D., is a psychiatrist with Harvard Medical School. She researches forensic psychiatry and violence.

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