- LifeZette - http://www.lifezette.com -

Veterans Who Need Care Have Important Rights

Internal ratings of the nation’s veterans hospitals were not supposed to be seen by the general public — but USA Today has offered the nation a glimpse.

The assessments don’t paint a healthy picture of what is going on with veterans’ care, or the reform that is supposed to be underway throughout the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system nationwide.

The ratings are said to be based on quality of care and service at nearly 150 of the VA's medical centers. Texas and Tennessee currently have many of the lowest performing medical centers — with VA hospitals in Dallas, El Paso, Nashville, Memphis, and Murfreesboro receiving just one star. Some of highest rated facilities, scoring five out of five stars, are clustered in the Northeast, USA Today reported. Facilities in Massachusetts and New York received the maximum number of marks, as did hospitals in the upper Midwest — South Dakota and Minnesota, in particular.

The VA has refused to provide a list of hospitals that received two, three, or four stars, said USA Today.

A new program called "MyVA Access" should give veterans same-day access to primary care and mental health care.

"My concern is that veterans are going to see that their hospital is a 'one' in our star system, assume that's bad quality, and veterans that need care are not going to get care," VA Under Secretary for Health David Shulkin told the newspaper. "And they're going to stay away from hospitals and that's going to hurt people."

Shulkin said the ratings were solely an "internal improvement tool" used to track both improving and deteriorating facilities.

He added that 120 of 146 clinics showed improvements under his watch since July 2015.

Others, like Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), have enormous concerns about the secrecy issue. "Veterans seeking care at VA hospitals deserve to know exactly what they are walking into," the chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee told the paper.

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"Additionally, Congress, taxpayers and other stakeholders need to have a quick and efficient means of comparing the performance of various VA medical centers in order to identify facilities in need of improvement," he added.

The news comes at the same time the Department of Veteran Affairs announced it is rolling out a new program called "MyVA Access" that will give veterans same-day access to primary care and mental health care when they need it.

The system was launched in part because of the death of veteran Curtis Gearhart, 32, of Iowa, who committed suicide last month. He had been seeking mental health services at the central Iowa VA. There is currently an investigation into the care he may have received prior to his death.

Gearhart's sister, Shawna Allen, told the KCCI 8, the CBS affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa, that all she wants is for something to change and for her brother's death to mean something. Veterans should now be able to walk into the emergency room at any VA hospital to get mental health help in an emergency.