Opinion

Veterans did not sign up for this

Jeffrey Howard - Courtesy Photo
Jeffrey Howard
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

By Jeffrey S. Howard

The Inspector General preliminary report is confirming dozens of VA clinics and hospitals are gaming the system at the expense of sick veterans. It has also come out that the Obama transition team was warned in 2008 that appointment wait time problems had been festering for decades.

Reports from both the IG and GAO have since repeatedly outlined the problem. Whose desk did they get filed in? What happened to the president’s repeated campaign promises to drag the VA into the 21st century and solve all its problems?

President Obama and Congress substantially increased the VA budget, so we credit them for that. The president appointed former general Eric Shinseki to head the department and charged him with making things right. Where has Shinseki been for the past five years and what has he done? Apparently not much, since the situation is now proving to be markedly worse than when he took charge.

At 17 I joined the Marine Corps and was soon on the way to Vietnam. After 15 months on the ground in an infantry rifle company, I was dumped unceremoniously back into civilian life — too young to buy a legal drink or vote.

My spine had a permanent curvature from constantly packing a 46-pound mortar during the final years of physical growth. There were no welcome home activities and PTSD had yet to be described. Fallacious movie portrayals and biased reporting bred malicious prejudice against hiring Vietnam vets for decent jobs. Decades of self medication with cheap whisky, a supporting family, and a strong wife eventually defeated the devils of the mind.

I have been under the surgeon’s knife numerous times since — twice for spinal, and twice for shoulder work among others, and won’t go near a VA facility. We can afford private insurance, but millions of my fellow veterans can’t and must depend on the VA for treatment.

This metastasizing scandal in VA medical facilities is inexcusable. Administrations past and present have promised reform, but problems just get worse. The system is huge, with over 200,000 staffers responsible for over eight million veterans. Most of the employees are civil service types whose employment is ironclad and bonuses depend on “performance.” Those negative perverse incentives led to sweeping thousands of sick vets under the rug to enhance the facade of efficiency.

What we are seeing here is an informative peek into the maw of “single payer” health care — something my liberal friends dream about constantly. It looks good in theory, but eventually leads to rationing, lousy care, surly staffs, maltreatment, and in the end long and often fatal wait times. Our veterans are actually dying, denied treatment while awaiting appointments, totally ignored by the system.

Trying to reform the medical equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicles with more money and self serving demands from Congress is only more of the same. Perhaps it is time to send these deserving veterans to civilian doctors using some form of voucher system instead of placing them on secret waiting lists while they waste away and pass on untreated.

The VA is the typical aging, bloated, crumbling, inefficient government bureaucracy, led by a man who has apparently done nothing to improve it in over five years. Replacing Eric Shinseki with yet another drone chair warmer won’t cure the patient, but it is the credible place to start. Then it is Congress’ duty to grab this headless monster by the stacking swivel and reform it from the bottom up.

Our veterans swore an oath and signed a blank check payable “up to and including my life” for the honor of serving this country. They earned our gratitude and above all, the right to quality and efficient treatment of their illnesses as they head into their sunset years.

 

Jeffrey S. Jeffrey Howard grew up and lives in Redmond. A UW graduate, he writes on subjects related to history, politics, and economics. He previously managed heavy construction equipment fleets, and now fills in as a line haul tanker driver evenings and weekends.

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