EDITORIAL: Getting well

Health care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has to be frustrating for all involved. Efforts for real reform are evident everywhere, but too often they are undermined by inefficiency and red tape. We hope the latest effort to address veterans’ needs is able to surmount the systemic failings that have plagued other programs.

The VA recently launched the Video Connect/Tele-Health system through which veterans can consult with doctors and other VA healthcare professionals using internet or smartphone video connections. The vet can make the call from home or anywhere else a communications signal makes the connection possible. Someone feeling chest pains or other discomfort can even call from a store, restaurant or any other place, according to VA officials who announced the new service earlier this month at the VA clinic in Harlingen.

To be sure, some evaluations require physical examination, but a visual cursory analysis can help the doctor determine if the vet should come in for in-person treatment.

The system seems perfect for follow-up or post-treatment evaluations, renewal or change in prescriptions or other cases that might not require physical contact.

Remote conferencing is a recent development, but it expands the My Healthevet system that has been in operation for some 15 years.

VA reform has been a priority for the Trump administration, and continued efforts to improve services is laudable.

Veterans health care has long been plagued by poor performance and red tape, and we hope video-link services don’t suffer from the same problems that have plagued past efforts to improve other programs.

Reviews and audits of VA hospitals and clinics have revealed widespread problems. In addition to poor quality of care, many veterans have had to weight unreasonable lengths of time to see doctors. Valley clinics were among the worst, with veterans having to wait months for appointments for the most routine services. Numbers would have been even worse, but auditors found that local clinic staff had taken names off waiting lists to make them look better, and many vets died before their appointments.

One celebrated effort to address the problem was a voucher system that enabled veterans to see private doctors. After the first few years, however, doctors who had signed on to the program started ending their contracts because reimbursement was too slow and the claims process was too cumbersome.

We hope video visits net better results, but the system will only be as good as the availability of medical professionals who can take the calls. It would be of little use to a veteran whose call was delayed because all doctors were busy handling other calls.

Continued efforts to improve the system are needed, however, and we welcome this latest effort. Many of our veterans experienced the hell of war, and our country rightly has pledged to address their needs, especially when they’re service related. We hope VA officials will monitor the program and work to improve it as issues arise.