The Veterans Affairs' health-care system is good.
That's the conclusion of researchers who praised the VA system for its use of electronic medical records, its focus on preventive care and its outstanding results, according to Washington Post reporter Gilbert Gaul, who took a look at the changes in the VA system in a story published in the U-B Sunday.
Gaul's report noted that the VA system outperforms Medicare and most private health plans on many quality measures, including diabetes care, managing high blood pressure and caring for heart attack patients.
This helps explain why so many in Walla Walla, particularly those who regularly use VA medical services, have been so vocal _ and focused _ on ensuring that a full-service hospital remains open here.
Well over a year ago the federal government had considered making the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center an outpatient-only clinic. After protests from veterans and the community _ aided by the political muscle of a well-placed representative and senators in Congress _ a decision on the local VA hospital was delayed.
Now is the time for those who see the need to continue to have a full-service hospital serving Southeastern Washington, Northeastern Oregon and Idaho make their case. The clear improvement of the VA medical system should make that even easier.
One of the arguments for shutting down the local hospital is that the services and treatments eliminated could be contracted out to local and regional hospitals. We see that argument as dubious.
The services and treatments needed by veterans, particularly psychiatric care, are simply not easily accessible or readily available in the Walla Walla area for all those who would need them.
In addition, the care veterans receive through the VA system might be better than what is available in the private sector. Or, at least, it is tailored to the specific needs of veterans.
The vast improvement of the VA system began in 1990 with a reorganization of its entire system. The VA invested heavily in computers and software. Incredible improvement has taken place over the past decade, Gaul noted in his report.
``If you take a five- or six-year perspective, I think what the Veterans Health Administration has done is stunning,'' said Donald Berwick, president and chief executive of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. ``It's especially impressive because this is a massive system that works in a fishbowl, is under tremendous scrutiny and has constrained resources.'' Since 1996, Gaul reports, the number of patients the VA has treated has doubled, which seems to be linked to the improvement in care.
Demand will continue to grow as wounded veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Our veterans deserve this top-quality care.
And the veterans from this region deserve to have it nearby and easily accessible.