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Vets deserve better

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By Optic Editorial Board

The men and women who have fought for our country deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. We, as a nation, owe them at least that much given the tremendous sacrifices they have made for us and for our country.

That’s why the allegations being made about veteran hospitals in Phoenix and perhaps elsewhere are so troubling.

In case you missed it, here’s the short version. Advocates for veterans contend that 40 veterans in the Phoenix area died waiting to get an appointment at a VA hospital. They allege that administrators in Phoenix kept an off-the-books list to conceal long wait times.

Worse yet, there are indications that this may be a nationwide problem — at least that’s what Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam veteran himself, told veterans and their families during a recent community meeting.

“Friends, this is not a unique situation as far as Arizona is concerned,” McCain said. “I emphasize everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but this appears to be a problem of nationwide implications.”

The senator made it clear that if the allegations are true, those responsible have broken the law and should be prosecuted.

Our own Sen. Tom Udall has sent a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki requesting that federal authorities broaden their investigation into alleged secret waiting lists at veterans hospitals, saying they should also be looking into facilities in New Mexico and elsewhere.

According to an Associated Press story, Arizona, New Mexico and part of Texas are under the same Veterans Integrated Service Network.

Udall said he was outraged at the allegations that the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System and possibly others were covering up the extent of their waiting lists while veterans died waiting for appointments.

We all should be outraged and disgusted, because if these allegations are true, then we, as a nation, have failed the very men and women we owe everything to. That is shameful and simply unacceptable.

Shinseki has already ordered an audit of access to care at all VA medical centers. That’s a good start.

We urge members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation to stay on top of this issue and to be advocates for our veterans.