Veterans Day had its start as Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I hostilities. The holiday serves as an occasion to both honor those who have served in our armed forces and to ask whether we, as a nation, are doing right by them.
In recent years, that question has been directed most urgently at Veterans Affairs hospitals. Some critics are even calling for the dismantling of the whole huge system of hospitals and outpatient clinics.
President Obama signed a US$16 billion dollar bill to reduce wait times in 2014 to do things like hire more medical staff and open more facilities. And while progress has been made, much remains to be done. The system needs to improve access and timeliness of care, reduce often challenging bureaucratic hurdles and pay more attention to what front-line clinicians need to perform their duties well. There is no question that the VA health care system has to change, and it already has begun this process.
Over the past 25 years, I have been a medical student, chief resident, research fellow and practicing physician at four different VA hospitals. My research has led me to spend time in more than a dozen additional VA medical centers.
I know how VA hospitals work, and often have a hard time recognizing them as portrayed in today’s political and media environment. My experience is that the VA hospitals I know provide high-quality, compassionate care.