CASSIDY: Keeping Our Promises, Keeping Our Veterans Healthy

“… to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan …”

-A. Lincoln Second Inaugural Address

On Memorial Day, we honor Americans who served and serve in uniform to protect freedom. As President Lincoln said, it is our country’s obligation to care for those who gave so much and suffered the wounds of battle. This has particular relevance in light of the servicemen and women returning from our recent wars.

As a doctor who has spent 25 years caring for patients in Louisiana’s Charity Hospital system, I am especially concerned about reports that the Phoenix Veterans Administration Hospital lied about wait times, falsified records so that administrators could receive bonuses, and that patients may have died pre-maturely due to delayed care. This is inexcusable. Unfortunately, this is the latest in a series of scandals about the VA system.

To honor our obligation to care for veterans, we must address the problems in the VA hospital system. This includes reviewing the average wait time for a new visit and for procedures, the “no show” rate for appointments, the number of hospital beds for particular conditions such as inpatient psychiatric services, and indicators of the adequacy of service. These results should be posted online so the veteran accessing service could compare his or her wait times and hold the system accountable.

But our veterans’ care, and our ability to support them, extends beyond what goes on inside the VA. The VA has a pilot program which allows veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury to receive care at home, instead of an institution. I recently learned of a participant in this pilot program who is worried that he wouldn’t be able to continue receiving care if the current pilot program to help treat TBI was not extended.

In response, I introduced legislation to extend and enhance treatment services available for these veterans. It makes sense to extend a successful program that allows a veteran who is suffering from TBI to live at home, instead of an institution. Extending the program for 3 years brings stability and certainty to families.

These initiatives are important because we not only have an obligation to our veterans, we have one to their families. When one individual serves, their families serve too. Husbands, wives, parents, sisters and brothers dedicate a part of their hearts for our country. We must do everything possible to make sure their loved ones have access to proper resources when they return home.

So this week, on Memorial Day, we remember the obligation that President Lincoln once spoke of.

There is no better way to honor our veterans then by renewing our commitment to care for them. For they have fought for our freedoms, and have kept their commitment us.

Bill Cassidy represents Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District. This piece originally appeared at the Shreveport Times.

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