Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Perspective on the VA "Scandal"

I never thought I would use the words "Bob Dole" and "statesman" in the same sentence, but Bob Dole recently gave an interview in which he asserted multiple times that "The United States takes better care of its veterans than any other country in the world." This illustrates the wisdom that elder statesman have; this wisdom is based on two things: first, they have a vast amount of experience and so have a better perspective on things than the rest of us; and second, they are out of politics and so can feel free to speak their mind, unemcumbered by the needs and demands of partisan politics.

This whole "issue" of the Va waiting  lists is bogus on so many levels that one hardly knows where to start. First of all, no veteran is being denied care. Any veteran is free to go to any private health care provider, just as the rest of us do.

A recent caller to C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" made the point that a veteran is able to go a private hospital and still have the VA pay for it. He said that every veteran is given a pamphlet when he goes into the VA, explaining the procedure for this. The caller himself has had many surgeries, and never any problem with getting the VA to pay for them. Indeed, every caller to C-SPAN that I have heard has said that he's had excellent care at the VA, and has no complaints.

Certainly no reasonable person would deny that a veteran who has seen combat, and has health issues resulting from that combat, should be entitled to free, top-notch medical care. But the veterans whose "service" consists of sitting behind a desk for two years in this county is in a much different category. There need to be more sensible standards about who is entitled to free care.

A caller to "Washington Journal" provided some useful perspective. He is a plumbing contractor who does a lot of work in hospitals, both private and VA. he said that when a private hospital does something wrong, nobody hears anything about it. However, when a VA hospital does something wrong, it is splashed all over the front page the next day.

This is in line with what I discovered when working years ago for a government-funded anti-poverty agency. When I took exception to a critical article in the local newspaper and wrote to the reporter about it, I received a response saying that anything an agency does with taxpayer dollars is fair game.

Another problem is the need for any government agency to give "due process" to its employees. What this means is that, unlike in the private sector, it is very hard to get rid of an unsatisfactory employee. This is because of the Constitutional requirement that the government cannot deny anybody "life, liberty or property without due process of law". Since a job is considered to be a form of property right, we have the due process problem. Again, I ran into this working for a government agency, when an incompetent personnel director was fired, then went to court and got his job back, with back pay.

The best system is to get rid of all the layer upon layer of bureaucracy and red tape in the health care delivery system, and go to a single-payer system in which we all have the right to health care. When Dwight Eisenhower was contemplating running for president in 1951, a journalist asked him if he "believed in socialized medicine". Ike's response: "Well, I don't like that term, but I believe everyone in this country should be entitled to free health care." Ike's wisdom holds true today, even more so than in 1951.

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