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Another view - VA: Release nursing home appraisals
Stuart News - 6/29/2018
Most Americans, when they think of the VA, envision a vast bureaucracy of care centers for millions of the nation's veterans. That it is. But who knew the agency also runs a network of nursing homes?
Well, it does, and it turns out – thanks to recent coverage by USA TODAY and The Boston Globe – many of those nursing homes suffer from health delivery concerns similar to those that plague some VA hospitals and clinics.
About 46,000 veterans annually are cared for in 133 of these homes nationwide. Some are located on Department of Veterans Affairs hospital campuses, and some are separate facilities.
The VA rates these nursing homes for quality, but internal appraisals showing that 60 homes with the lowest ratings were kept secret from the public until reporters pressed. Moreover, in some crucial measurement standards, including reports of pain, VA homes performed substantially worse than private-sector alternatives.
Members of Congress have called for briefings to learn what this all means. That's a necessary first step. The VA, meanwhile, has regrettably gone into a classic defensive crouch, falling back on claims of "fake news."
The VA's propensity for concealing facts about how it cares for veterans often redounds to its discredit. The heart of the scandal that rocked Veterans Affairs in 2014, resulting in a secretary stepping down, was a systemic effort to falsify wait-time records to keep embarrassing information from the public.
Coming clean on delays could have spurred efforts to expand staffing as the aging veteran population grew. And while the scandal was certainly an access-to-care problem, it wasn't necessarily a health care problem. Studies later authorized by Congress, including a recent sweeping analysis by RAND, all show that once veterans see doctors, VA hospitals perform the same or better than non-VA facilities, and that veteran outpatient clinics perform significantly better.
Veterans can now go online to see comparative data for VA hospitals and outpatient clinics and choose private alternatives if VA care is wanting. But Veterans Affairs evidently hasn't yet learned that lesson for its operation of nursing homes. Though it released limited appraisal information after reporters inquired, the agency continues to withhold underlying quality data such as infection and injury rates at its elderly care facilities.
This information needs to be made public, not just when reporters ask for it but for any veteran or family of a veteran considering care at a VA nursing home. Private nursing homes are required by federal law to make this information available, and so should taxpayer-financed VA facilities.
If the Department of Veterans Affairs is going to operate these homes, people need to know the quality of care and how it stacks up against private alternatives. Veterans – including members of the rapidly dwindling Greatest Generation, who saved the world from tyranny in World War II – deserve nothing less.
USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff.