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Portland VA Budget Crunch Cancels Surgeries
Portland VA Budget Crunch Cancels Surgeries

About the Author

Larry Scott (former E-5) served four-plus years in the U.S. Army with overseas tours as a Broadcast Journalist at AFKN HQ, Seoul, Korea and AFN Lajes Field, The Azores, Portugal and a stateside tour as a Broadcast Journalism Instructor at the Defense Information School (DINFOS). Larry was decorated four times including the Joint Service Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. He was awarded DOD's First Place Thomas Jefferson Award for Excellence in Journalism. After the Army, Larry went back to radio news, working in Indianapolis as a News Anchor on WIFE Radio and then in New York City as a News Anchor on WNBC Radio. He receives VA compensation for a service-connected disability and uses the Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington VA facilities for healthcare. Today, Larry resides in Southwest Washington and operates the veteran's help website YourVABenefits.org. To contact Larry Scott email larry@yourvabenefits.org.

Author's View

Earlier this year the VA announced findings for CARES (Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Service), with plans to build new facilities and programs. At the same time, three VA hospitals were closed. Does the good news outweigh the bad news? In a May 2004 article posted on the VFW website, then-VFW National Commander Edward S. Banas, Sr. supported the CARES program, stating, "The VFW fully understands that the closing or consolidation of some facilities may inconvenience some veterans, but the VA has offered reassurances that no veteran will be denied or have their health care delayed during the transition." Mr. Banas must be very disappointed, as are the veterans served by the Portland VA who have been "denied" needed surgery or been told there will be a "delay" before a medically necessary procedure can be performed.

The real problem is under-funding of the VA. While the VA could not have been expected to anticipate this "dramatic increase" in patients, and it goes begging for proper funding every year, Congress sits idly by and lets this problem grow geometrically. This problem could be solved once and for all with full and mandatory funding for VA health care.

Don't let your VA facility be the next Portland, the next victim of under-funding. Register to vote. Vote your conscience for the candidates who you feel will properly fund the VA. Let your friends and neighbors know we need their help with more than just words. Write your local newspaper about your concerns. Call, write or email your elected representatives (and those running for office), and let them know millions of veterans will hold them accountable for their votes. Demand a vote on pending legislation instead of letting it fall victim to partisan brawling because we must have full and mandatory funding for VA health care. Call me an optimist, because I am. I know we can change this frightening situation. With one simple piece of legislation the VA could be funded properly. We did it for a war! We can do it for our veterans who have fought the war.

September 7, 2004

[Have an opinion on this article? Go to the Discussion Forum to sound off.]

[Update, September 13: Surgeries Back On]

By Larry Scott

In the last few weeks the Portland, Oregon VA hospital has been sending a letter to veterans informing them that their non-"life-or-limb" surgery has been cancelled or postponed. The Portland VA facility, with a satellite campus in Vancouver, Washington, serves veterans in Oregon, southwest Washington and parts of Northern California.

It all boils down to dollars, or lack of them. The Portland VA, like every VA facility, is caught in a funding crisis with no end in sight. Funding for the VA has increased every year, Internet myths aside. But the dollars have not kept up with the number of veterans seeking health care. While VA funding has increased about 50 percent in the last eight years, the number of veterans applying for benefits has increased nearly 150 percent in the same time frame.

Who are these veterans? There are two major groups. The first is veterans who, because of a sagging economy, are now unemployed or under-employed, have no health care benefits, have never used the VA system before, and are now applying for VA benefits for the first time. The second is veterans on Medicare who have never used the VA for health care, but find the savings offered by the VA system necessary to maintain a decent standard of living. Simple math shows that the $7 VA co-pay for prescriptions can be a great savings compared to Medicare prescription costs. One veteran interviewed for this article stated he is saving over $400 a month because he no longer uses Medicare for his prescriptions.

Patricia Forsyth, Public Affairs Officer for the Portland, Oregon VA hospital, cites "a dramatic increase in the number of veterans" who now seek health care as the reason surgeries are being cancelled or postponed. "Some examples of surgeries that might be postponed are arthroscopies (diagnostic or treatment), total joint replacements and hernia repairs," she said.

Ms. Forsyth could not give exact figures as to how many veterans are having surgeries postponed or cancelled, but stressed that no surgeries for service-connected conditions are being affected. It is important to note that there is no such thing as elective surgery at the VA. Every surgery has been scheduled by a medical doctor who has ascertained that the veteran has a debilitating condition that can only be remedied by a surgical procedure.

Ms. Forsyth cannot anticipate when the cancelled or postponed surgeries might be rescheduled other than to say it would be as soon as possible. When asked for an estimate as to what time that would be, Ms. Forsyth said, "I would guess until spring [2005]." It is a difficult situation, as 2004 monies have thinned to the point where the Portland VA cannot keep its operating rooms up and running. Currently there is no 2005 budget and everyone is holding their breath, hoping for the best. A document leaked from the White House indicated a $910 million cut in the 2006 VA budget (although the administration has backed off on this number).

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