Congressional candidates talk VA crisis

140526_Marblehead_Memorial_Day_Parade_10.JPG

Salem News: The ongoing controversy surrounding Veterans Affairs hospitals throughout the country has embroiled the candidates running for the 6th District congressional seat.

The scandal, touched off by claims of long wait times and secret waiting lists at a VA hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., has focused national attention on both the state of veterans’ health care and the government institution responsible for overseeing it.

The VA situation has struck close to home for Seth Moulton, a former Marine and Iraq War veteran who is Tierney’s main competition leading up to the primary this year.

During a Memorial Day speech in Marblehead, Moulton called attention to the VA scandal through a story about two soldiers he served with: Ryan, who was hit by a grenade in Najaf, and James, who saved Ryan’s life by carrying the wounded man through machine-gun fire.

When he got back home, James was able to get a decent job, but he suffered from post-traumatic stress, Moulton said. The VA was unable to provide the counseling he needed, leaving him to rely on medication alone.

“Too much medication,” Moulton said. “At the age of 30, James Hassel died of a heart attack.”

He added: “The man he saved, Ryan, is still waiting for the knee replacement he needs to recover from the injuries he sustained that day.”

140526_Marblehead_Memorial_Day_Parade_3.JPGNot long after the scandal broke, Moulton released a three-pronged plan to “improve how we treat our veterans” that suggested improving the quality of healthcare at all VA hospitals; better funding the VA and eliminating claims backlogs; and expanding the GI Bill.

“The Obama Administration has pledged to end the VA claims backlog by 2015, but it will be extremely challenging to the meet this deadline without additional resources,” Moulton said. “Congress should allocate additional funding to the Department of Veterans Affairs specifically targeted to end the backlog ... by investing in the caseworkers necessary to give our veterans the care on which they depend.”

Moulton also said that, if elected, he would eliminate all “special waiting lists” like the one in Phoenix; boost the number of behavioral scientists employed by the Department of Defense and the VA and unify the electronic records of the two organizations; and fund an overhaul of the VA system by cutting “wasteful spending in the Department of Defense budget.”

“Our failure to plan for how to take care of our returning veterans is appalling,” Moulton said.

Read the full story in the Salem News here.