In the News: Sarbanes Working for Veterans in Anne Arundel County

Our say: VA walks back a bad decision about clinic
Editorial Board, Capital Gazette 
August 31, 2016

Earlier this month, we urged members of Congress representing this county to push the federal government to reconsider a bit of budget-stretching that would have come at the expense of many local veterans.

The plan was to require most who use the Veterans Administration clinic at Fort George G. Meade for compensation and pension exams to instead go to the Loch Raven VA Outpatient Clinic in Baltimore — in general, an additional 45-minute trip on top of whatever was needed to get to Fort Meade.

Fortunately, the Department of Veterans Affairs Maryland Health Care System has walked this one back. An agency spokeswoman said funding from the department's central office will keep the exams at Fort Meade through the end of fiscal 2016 — and that the department "neglected to point out" that shifting the exams was always intended to be no more than a temporary measure to get the agency to the end of the fiscal year.

We don't know whether pressure from members of Congress played a part in this reversal. But we do know U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, according to a spokesman, made "several inquiries to officials at the VA and relayed concerns about the impact of the decision on Maryland veterans." Good for him.

The exams are a crucial entry point into the services offered by the VA system. More than 12,000 veterans who live in Anne Arundel received nearly $1.3 million in compensation or pension benefits in fiscal 2015 — the second-largest number among Maryland counties. So while layering an extra inconvenience onto those exams might not have been an earth-shaking change, it was by no means trivial. And it wasn't needed in a region that, according to a Baltimore Sun investigation last year, already has the nation's worst record on handling disability claims.