Our Opinion: Very red tape

On Wednesday, it was announced the Martinsburg, W,Va., veterans hospital would be closing its inpatient psychiatric facility. Military veterans who need help with psychiatric challenges would not be getting it from the government for as long as nine months. Why? Because the hospital is run by the government.

By Friday, no doubt due to public outcry, Department of Veterans Affairs officials said they had found a way to keep the facility open.

Wednesday’s announcement was explained by a VA spokesman. Because of “turnover in staff that’s normal in any medical field,” the psychiatric unit could not be operated, he said. “We have had retirements, people changing jobs, etc.”

Private-sector health care facilities have to cope with staff turnover, too. But when was the last time you heard of one closing a major department for that reason?

In all probability, you have never heard of that – because in the private sector, someone has to pay attention to staffing and plan to take care of temporary shortages. New people can be hired. Some who work in other departments can shift to cover shortages.

Private-sector hospitals find ways to handle staff turnover because they cannot afford not to – and because the public expects them not to let patients who need help down.

Department of Veterans Affairs don’t have to worry about whether they can afford such closures. They can rely on taxpayers.

And clearly, as the VA has demonstrated repeatedly during the past few years, responsibility to patients – in this case, men and women who have served our country – is not a high priority.

Many in the VA health care system do care. They do their best to help veterans.

But too often, VA officialdom lets them and the veterans down.

All’s well that ends well? Not really. The very fact the VA was able to solve the problem in two days, once officials put their minds to it, raises the question of why the initial decision to close the unit was made.

Because, of course, it’s the government.