A burgeoning scandal has struck the Veterans Administration health care system of late. While the furor over shortfalls in the system’s ability to meet the growing needs of veterans has reached a fever pitch and resulted in the recent resignation of Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the problems causing the furor are not new. There is also no lack of proposals for fixing the situation.
The full cost of wars is rarely understood by those responsible for starting and continuing them. The patriotic fervor expressed by the sentiments of the backers of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Support Our Troops, etc.) are displayed with much flag-waving and many bumper stickers. Unfortunately, when it comes time to take care of the inevitable casualties of those wars, support for those injured while fighting on behalf of those patriots tends to lag behind when it requires anything more than platitudes.
The hawks who so eagerly send other people’s children to die or become injured in foreign lands, often under false pretenses, neither care to face the budgetary costs of the wars nor their aftermath. While the wars themselves are excused from discussion as far as how they will be paid due the alleged fact that they are essential in maintaining our existence and defending our security as a nation, the deficits accrued in fighting them are used as excuses for neglecting the needs of the people sent as sacrificial lambs to fight them once they return home.
In Congress, it often seems that those who opposed the wars to begin with, either because they didn’t believe the reasons given them for starting them, or because the reasons soon became obviously false, seem to be the same people most concerned about the wellbeing of the troops we sent in harm’s way. People who cared not a whit how much money would be spent blowing Iraq and Afghanistan back to the stone age suddenly become deficit hawks when it comes time to pay the medical costs accrued by our troops as a result.
Back in February, Democrats in the Senate proposed a law which would have boosted support for the VA by increasing the number of facilities and health care professionals available for treating the increased number of veterans in need of the system as a result of the wars and the fact that many uninsured veterans were driven into the system as a result of the ACA’s individual mandate. The Senate GOP, almost in lock step, filibustered the bill and would not even allow it to come to the floor for a vote. Cost was given as their reason. Unwillingness to come up with the funding is closer to the truth.
The same forces in Congress seeking to privatize the United States Post Office and voucherize Medicare out of existence as we now know it, also seek to privatize the VA for the benefit of private insurance, health care and pharmaceutical companies. The VA medical system is now just about the closest thing we have in this country to single-payer “socialized” medicine, and the conservatives can’t stand to see it working well, so they hope by starving it they can dismantle it. The biggest complaints currently made about the VA medical system are difficulty of access and length of time it takes to receive needed treatment. Both were addressed in the Senate bill filibustered in February as being too costly.
I have personally been using the VA medical system for years now. This is easy for me, as I live within local commuting distance to the nearest VA hospital. Many veterans live a great distance from the nearest facility. Increasing the number of facilities and physicians available to treat patients would definitely help alleviate this problem. The system is means tested, unlike most of the private sector health care system, which means that lack of funds does not mean lack of treatment or inferior treatment. Preventive care is also encouraged.
While allowing some treatment at outside facilities but being paid for through the VA is a viable option ( I have been so treated in the past – it’s not unheard of) , giving vouchers to all veterans to take out and shop for treatment for themselves would not result in better treatment for them. It certainly would result in many of them paying more or not receiving needed treatment. The direction of the rest of our medical system should be to emulate the VA and Medicare more, not put more emphasis on the for-profit sector of our medical establishment. The extent to which the ACA caters to the furtherance of the for-profit insurance, pharmaceutical giants and medical care facilities is its major failing, in my opinion.;
As Bernie Sanders, Chair of the Senate committee that deals with the VA health care system has pointed out, “ We have a WAR problem, not a VA problem. Those who started these wars and supported their continuation for so many years owe it to the people who served in them to take care of their needs when they return. Putting their (and our) money where their mouths are is the only morally acceptable course. Just because fewer American soldiers are dying in these wars than was the case in the past does not mean that we can turn our backs on the returning soldiers who have suffered varying degrees of disabling physical and mental illnesses and injuries.
The time has come for the American government to come to grips with the fact that they can’t spend untold trillions fighting wars with no end in sight and no attainable goal while neglecting basic needs of soldier and civilians alike because they cost too much. Don’t start a war without limits if you’re going to use limits for every other aspect of your conduct. Most of all, do not refuse to live up to the moral obligation you have incurred towards those who have dutifully gone to pay the main brunt of the full price for your folly. Pay for the wars as they are being fought in the same manner as you pay for the aftermath – on budget.
We must keep these issues foremost in our minds as the politicians weigh the pros and cons of various proposals to fix the VA predicament. The money which the chicken hawk austerity and privatization folks are claiming should not be spent on expanding the VA exists, and should be used to do so. Cutting corners to increase the profits of the for-profit private medical sector at the expense of the health and wellbeing of our deserving service members is simply unacceptable. Firing a Cabinet Secretary and a few facility administrators is not the solution, but neither is the easy fix neo-con privatization proposed by many on the GOP side. Expanding the VA medical system to better meet the increased needs of our veterans is the right way to go.
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