Veterans Affairs secretary visits Blair County Veterans

Veterans Affairs secretary Anthony Principi visited the James E. Van Zandt Medical Center and the Hollidaysburg Veterans home yesterday. Principi took time to answer questions from some of the residents of the home and veterans who came to hear the secretary.
Principi is promoting the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) program which is an analysis of the 163 Veterans hospitals and over 1,000 clinics, nursing homes and other health care facilities. The analysis will take 18 months and after the analysis, Principi will recommend changes in the Department to the President.
Principi was accompanied by congressman Bill Shuster for his visit to the area.
The CARES program has uncovered one major cost problem.
“The General Accounting Office reported to me and Congress that the VA is wasting $1 million a day for heating and maintaining excess infrastructure that is not needed,” said Principi. “We needed to make some decisions so that the $300 million that we are wasting to heat empty buildings could be used to better meet the Veterans needs.”
Principi spoke of the changes in the Veterans Affairs health care facilities and how it is easier for Veterans to be treated.
“We are making the change from being a more hospital centered Health Care system to a more patient focused Health Care system,” said Principi. “We have created over 600 outpatient clinics throughout the country, so Veterans don’t have to drive as far, in some cases four, six even eight hours out west to a medical center. Now we have 30 outpatient clinics here in Pennsylvania that did not exits several years ago.”
Over the 18 months of the analysis, Principi will look at all input that comes to him.
“I promise you one thing, the process will be fair, the process will be pro-Veteran, the process will be objective and nothing will be done in secret,” the Secretary said. “I want to hear from the stakeholders. I want to hear from the Veterans, I want to hear from the communities, I want to hear from the Medical Schools. I want input from all these sources.”
Principi took questions from the audience concerning Veterans issues.
The first question concerned the raise in co-pay pharmaceuticals from two dollars to seven dollars.
“I made that decision,” said Principi. “Our pharmacy budget has grown from $750 million a year to $3.5 billion a year. No that is just for ingredients not the management. We spend another $600 million to have pharmacists, equipment the consolidated mail out pharmacy programs. Our pharmacy budget is in the neighborhood of $4 to 4.5 billion per year. We’re discretionary funded organization. I have to make it work. Congress allows us to keep those revenues from the seven dollar co-pay. It doesn’t go into the Treasury. It doesn’t go to Foreign Aid or corporate subsidies. Every penny we collect stays in Altoona, in Pittsburgh, in Philadelphia, in community based outpatient programs. That $600 million we collect off of 2.1 million outpatient visits a year will provide care for about 110,000 Veterans a year.”
The James E. Van Zandt Medical Center will not be cut or have any services reduced from this analysis.
“Clearly, the workload at this facility has grown rather dramatically,” said Principi.
Principi will be touring Veterans facilities across the country over the next 18 months to get information from the communities and Veterans.