Last week was supposed to be an opportunity to gaze into the crystal ball and see the future of health care for veterans living in Southeastern Washington, Northeastern Oregon and Central Idaho.
Unfortunately, the crystal ball was so smudged it was impossible to see beyond this year. The numbers used to project the number of veterans who will be needing services from the VA health-care system were outdated and useless. So, too, were the numbers related to the Northwest's economy, which is a major factor in whether veterans seek health care through the veterans system or private health-care providers.
``The numbers were weak that were presented,'' said Walla Walla City Manager Duane Cole, who also serves on the VA's Local Advisory Panel.
``They should be excellent.'' Cole's assessment is charitable. The numbers were pathetic.
The figures used were from 2003 and didn't take into account the war in Iraq or the number of soldiers from this region who have been and who will be fighting the war.
So, instead of projecting more veterans will need to use the VA Medical Center in Walla Walla, which serves a 14-county area in three states, the numbers indicate there will be a decrease in veterans.
According to the information presented, the number of veterans in this region was 17,907.
In eight years, the VA projects a 6 percent decrease to 16,896. A decade later the number of veterans will then fall to just over 15,000.
Yes, veterans from World War II and Korea will decrease during the next two decades, but veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will fill the void. We have no way of knowing how many U.S. soldiers will be fighting overseas or how long they will be asked to put their lives on the line.
But we do know that Vietnam-era veterans are aging and will require greater medical care.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., was one of 31 people who testified in front of the Local Advisory Panel last week. She was blunt _ and on target.
``The VA is struggling to deal with existing veterans, and I fear what will happen when tens of thousands of new veterans are added to this already-strained system,'' Murray said.
``... If we make it harder for veterans to seek care, in the end they will not get any care. And that is unacceptable.'' It's troubling that the VA numbers were so obviously flawed. Our government must do better.
This nation has an obligation to care for veterans. That means making sure top-notch medical services are available to all veterans whether they live in big cities or rural areas such as Walla Walla The VA has, to this point, bungled just about every aspect of this study. The folks at the top should start getting it right _ or they should get out of the way.