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Lawmakers say VA can't blame woes on lack of funding

Saturday, May 31, 2014 10:59 PM
Last updated Sunday, June 1, 2014 2:06 AM
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In the past four fiscal years, the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center received the most funding from Congress when delays were at their worst in the Augusta hospital’s troubled gastrointestinal clinic, leading to three deaths.

According to federal budget figures obtained by The Augusta Chronicle, congressional funding approved for the hospital has hovered around $295 million over the past four fiscal years, except in 2012, when general-purpose dollars for medical care increased to $312 million.

Despite the 5 percent boost in funding, three veterans died that year after Augusta VA administrators failed to schedule 4,580 endoscopy referrals for primary care physicians at the hospital, records show.

The area’s congressional representatives said budget data confirms the Augusta VA’s problems are a management issue, not one of funding.

“Funding should have been in place and adequate for medical services to be fully provided,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. “It’s not a funding problem. It’s really a management issue, but changes have been made.”

The medical center reported in January that it had cleared the backlog. Wilson; Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga.; and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., have said they’ve been assured the clinic’s failures were not the result of inadequate funding, but a procedural issue in which management was not effectively using the resources given to them.

“If they had an excuse or a reason to blame Congress, they would, but it is very difficult to pass the buck because we’ve been giving them a whole lot more money,” Bar­row said.

Budget authority – the amount of money a federal department or agency can spend or obligate by law – has increased significantly for veteran benefits and services since 1940.

Then, the budget authority was $56.1 million. In 2012, when factoring in inflation, it was at $125 billion because more services and benefits are needed for a veteran population that is aging and increasing from the drawdown of more wars, according to a report from the Con­gressional Research Service.

Isakson, a member of the Sen­ate Committee on Vete­rans Affairs, said funding shouldn’t have contributed to the problems at Charlie Norwood, particularly in 2012, a fiscal year in which the VA wasn’t forced to make mandated across-the-board budget cuts because of sequestration.

“If there is a shortage that causes a threat to life and health, then that should be reported and the money should be provided,” he said. “It should not be used (as) an excuse for somebody to die or get an infection.”

Though federal budget proposals are compiled on a macro level and do not include detailed information on how funding affects federal services by region, some representatives have agreements with the VA to provide local information about funding problems.

Barrow and Wilson said they are not aware of such a practice but think it is a good idea and plan to look into it.

Isakson has voted in favor of the past four federal budgets, which includes VA funding, except in 2013. Barrow has voted yes each time. Of Augusta’s area representatives, only Paul Broun, R-Ga., has voted no in all four years. Wilson voted yes only in 2014.

Isakson used to have a similar arrangement with former Lt. Gen. Eric Schoo­maker to track funding issues within the VA, but he said the VA has not continued that relationship since the Army surgeon general left in 2011.

“If the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center thinks it’s underfunded and underappropriated, it’s their responsibility to report it to me and I hope they do so,” he said. “But I have no record where they did.”

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IBeDogGone
3014
Points
IBeDogGone 06/01/14 - 02:06 am
3
2
VA SHOULD BE RUN LIKE A BUSINESS

The funding is there for proper care of our veterans if it were correctly managed. I think it is time for that budget to be outsourced to practices that are willing to care for VA patients properly. I am sure if bids were opened you would have many organizations bidding to manage healthcare for Vets and they would receive better care.

northeastbeast
23
Points
northeastbeast 06/01/14 - 04:04 am
1
2
Its All About The People

THe problems hane nothing to do with money. Plus there is a bif difference between the 2 hospitals. The uptown hospital tho it's not about healthcare as much as the downtown hospital. But the care at the uptown hospital is 20 times better than downtown. Not including a great Therapy department uptown because the downtown doesnt have one. But from the rude nurses downtown, rude asst nurses, the student doctors from GRU. The Nurses and asst. nurses uptown treat vets like they care for them. The ones downtown are there for a check, they dont care. The va should be shut down nation wide and let vets go to real doctors at real hospitals. Its sad that the worst hospital in the csra is the downtown va. Vets put their lives on the line to get treated worse than the dogs at GRU.

RunnerDoc
64
Points
RunnerDoc 06/01/14 - 06:45 am
2
1
Slow Tortoise instead of Swift Shark

Many of the problems with our country is the size of the government. I am not saying that we don't need many of the agencies that we have, but if you look at the Katrina response, the VA fiasco, or any of the other large scale "government fails" - the problem is instead of a government full of the best and the brightest, many large agencies are filled with "dead weight" - people who are just holding out at the job for the pension. There is really no mechanism for getting rid of people who don't perform and therefore the government functions more like a dysfunctional tortoise instead of like a fast shark. We must get rid of unionized employees in the Federal Government, hold people to their job descriptions, punish those that don't live up to their JD.

nocnoc
42512
Points
nocnoc 06/01/14 - 07:21 am
2
2
Bonuses and Patient load don't mix

It is Medical care, and although they are trying to put our Vet's back together again, it still is NOT an assembly line to be managed by bonuses, incentives, and quota's with limited doctors on staff.

The $$$$ was there, The management skills for running a Post-Trauma based hospital Levels 1 thru 4 Center never were not at too many levels.

1 thing for sure it is time; The White House (whoever is in it) needs to stop appointing DESK FLYERS, paper shufflers and figure head names. They need to look beyond "recent" Military Generals or political appointees for management slots.

Maybe it is time to shutdown the VA Hospital branch and gave the VET's a FREE UNRESTRICTED MEDICAL CARD, good at any Doctor, care facility, Hospice, Nursing home or Hospital in the USA.

Because the VA Hospitals seem to have a VET CARE problem every time we send troops overseas to wage a Battle, conflict or war and they come back.

Bodhisattva
6181
Points
Bodhisattva 06/01/14 - 08:49 am
1
1
The "most funding" still

The "most funding" still doesn't mean adequate funding. At the time I worked there (very, very long ago) when we weren't at war, staffing was woefully inadequate. The staff back then cared with all their hearts and soul about the veterans but were on the verge of burnout due to understaffing. I can on imagine what it's like, thanks to a couple of unnecessary wars, over 50,000 wounded, an estimated quarter of a million or more traumatic brain injuries, and an estimated 780,000 tp 910,000 cases of PTSD, I can only imagine how much the system is overloaded when the paper is bragging about a 5% boost in funding. Funding for the entire VA systen didn't cross the $1 billion mark until the 2010 budget, which was Obama's first budget (the 2009 fiscal year budget was Bush's). We started the Afghan War in 2001 with a VA budget of $44.97 billion. When we started war #2 in 2003, we had a VA budget of $56.98 billion. Gee, how did we ever get a backlog and get so behind? The following is in billions.
2001-$44.97
2002-$50.93
2003-$56.98
2004-$59.75
2005-$70.12
2006-$69.81
2007-$72.82
2008-$84.65
2009-$95.43
2010-$108.38
2011-$127.19
2012-$124.60
2013-$138.94
2014-$151.17
If you notice, in 2006, the GOP controlled House even cut their budget, and again in 2012. ??????? We have a $4 trillion to $6 trillion duo of wasteful wars started by neocons who thought since America wa the only remaining superpower, we could be the bully on the block, throw out massive military might around, and basically conquer the world and rebuild it in out own image. A very stupid, vain, and imperialistic plan that fell flat in its face that our young people (defintely not the neocons that started them) paid for with their blood and we've paid for with our treasure and the lives of our loves ones.

corgimom
32275
Points
corgimom 06/01/14 - 08:57 am
1
1
This is a bunch of

This is a bunch of politicians that are trying to deflect the blame.

It doesn't matter that the Augusta VA got more money than ever before, it still WASN"T ENOUGH to adequately take care of the patients that went there.

“If the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center thinks it’s underfunded and underappropriated, it’s their responsibility to report it to me and I hope they do so,” he said. “But I have no record where they did.”

Yeah, right.

justthefacts
21768
Points
justthefacts 06/01/14 - 09:28 am
4
0
Proof

"It doesn't matter that the Augusta VA got more money than ever before, it still WASN"T ENOUGH to adequately take care of the patients that went there." Is that an opinion or fact? If it is a fact, some evidence would be nice.

bclicious
718
Points
bclicious 06/01/14 - 10:57 am
1
0
REALLY?

So, there is no need for any additional funds within the VA? I think not. Sure, there is always room to improve due diligence for the existing funds, but the math doesn't add up for all the people getting out of the military at the end of 2 wars, and the largest R.eduction I.n F.orce (RIF) since WWII.

As for the way the VA is ran policy wise; there is huge gapping space for improvement. With that in mind; can any of you show me a stellar U.S. government organization where they are a model of organization and production? I think not.

So, I am a 3 time Veteran of OIF, and I do feel that America has a debt and obligation that can never be repaid or fulfilled. With that in mind; I do think there is room for improvement, but we need to be pushing for reform, and yet more support of the VA.

From waht I read in general, you would think that most people would rather have the VA disbanded, and then completely contracted out.

ralphinga
1230
Points
ralphinga 06/01/14 - 11:29 am
0
0
Political B.S.

Hard to believe that a sitting Representative or Senator actually believes that a VA official at the VA medical center would give them a call or letter asking for more funding. The penalty to that official would be swift and severe. And those officials don't ask because all that happens is a letter from the Representative or Senator to VA Central Office when they quickly provide a management report detailing the funding received by the facility. They tell the Director of the facility "if you can't run the facility with the funding available, we'll find someone who can". So facility managers dig in and cut anything not related to direct patient care. That's why the Uptown division has never had the outside pressure washed and the stainless steel of the Downtown division hasn't been washed since the early 90's. A Senator or Representative has to advocate for improved funding for the entire VA .... Not just the one in his or her backyard.

northeastbeast
23
Points
northeastbeast 06/01/14 - 05:28 pm
2
0
THERE IS ONLY ONE ANSWER

THE VA CAN NOT BE FIXED. IT HAS CRASHED AND BURNED. THE ONLY ANSWER IS TO CLOSE THE MONEY PIT THAT GIVES SORRY HEALTHCARE AND GIVE VETS A CARD TO GO TO THEIR DOCTOR AND TO ONE OF THE GOOD HOSPITALS IN AUGUSTA.

Little Lamb
45908
Points
Little Lamb 06/01/14 - 10:07 pm
0
0
Good Hospitals?

So if the VA doesn't provide good care, then how can Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi get any traction by promoting a single payer system for the entire U.S. health care system?

The VA experience is the future experience of the Affordable Care Act.

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