The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has taken a step, albeit a small one, in the right direction. They've admitted they have a problem, specifically with wait times for military veterans.
Veterans seeking benefits and those who have received benefits both encounter wait times, and in some states, wait times that are astronomically long and potentially hazardous to a veteran's health. Part of the VA's reboot includes transparent data on those wait times.
Mississippi's VA is not perfect, but it's improving, data show. A year ago, it took almost 100 more days for a veteran to find out if his compensation claim would go through than it does today. About 40,000 veterans are enrolled in benefits in the state of Mississippi, even though close to 220,000 veterans live here, Darryl Brady, Jackson's regional benefit office director for Veterans Administration, said.
For primary health care and mental-health care, wait times have gone down, too. It takes a day for the Sonny Montgomery Medical Center to get a veteran mental-health care.
This is progress, but not perfection. The problem lies in the high suicide numbers of veterans—especially those who don't have access to VA benefits or care. In 2014, an average of 20 veterans committed suicide every day, a 2016 VA report tragically shows.
About 18 percent of Mississippi veterans have benefits through the VA. Of course, this doesn't mean that 92 percent of veterans in the state don't have any health care, but that large number means that men and women who risked their lives for our country are potentially suffering. They are losing out on access to critical mental-health care and other care that they deserve, in order to not only make their quality of lives better but to improve the wellness of communities around the state.
It is high time that the state starts listening to its veterans, and not just listening but reaching out to help them. Funding is not the issue, and the VA has indicated a willingness to change, so we call on them to do so.
Change means listening to veterans' needs and concerns. Change means letting the new myVA board listen to veterans' stories and listening to what they need.
We call upon the state's VA offices to continue to seek out and listen to veterans' concerns and offer the services they have no doubt earned in their service to our country.