Americans have no faith in socialized medicine, a system in which the federal government owns the hospitals, employs the doctors and nurses and pays the bills. Yet the United States has a vast system of socialized medicine. Its name is the VA!
Would you trade your health care for the VA? Of course, you wouldn’t. Why then do we dishonor veterans by forcing them into a failed system that we would never choose? And how do we right this wrong?
The Department of Veterans Affairs is an entrenched, Jabba the Hutt, behemoth. It is the second largest federal agency with more than 200,000 employees. Only the Department of Defense is larger. It operates more than 1,000 health-care facilities, including 163 hospitals. The Obama administration is requesting that Congress appropriate $168.8 billion for the VA for the coming fiscal year. The request states, “the budget supports veterans, their families and survivors in receiving the highest quality benefits and services which they earned through their sacrifice and service to the nation.”
That’s a lie. The shocking revelations about the VA over the past year, while the worst yet, are not new. The VA’s current problems are not an aberration from a long-standing track record of competence and accomplishment. The truth is that the VA has had a deeply troubled history since the Revolutionary War.
A century of incompetence
Here’s a sampler from a CNN report a year ago by Michael Pearson.
In 1921 Congress created the Veterans Bureau to aid World War I veterans. By 1930 it was so corrupt it was abolished.
In the 1940s and the 1950s Government Commissions found widespread waste, and inadequate care in the VA.
In the 1970s the VA refused to recognize and treat exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange by American troops in Vietnam.
Since 2000 the VA has spun out of control. The backlog of unprocessed disability claims has skyrocketed. Sensitive records of more than 25 million veterans have been stolen. The VA has botched colonoscopies, thus exposing veterans to hepatitis and HIV. Veterans have died from an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in a Pennsylvania VA hospital. In 2012 VA cemeteries were faulted for misidentifying veteran’s grave sites.
In 2014 at least 59 veterans died because of treatment delays in VA hospitals, preventable delays that were concealed by VA managers so they could appear to be performing at a high level. At the same time, 986 of the top 1,000 federal employees receiving bonuses were VA physicians. Sound right?
The construction of a new VA hospital in Denver is now in limbo because its estimated costs have trebled to $1.73 billion.
New secretary not enough
It’s obvious the VA and the corrupt culture it has bred over decades can’t be fixed by simply appointing a new cabinet secretary. Expecting the president or Congress to correct these systemic problems is foolhardy. If either of them had the will to fix this mess, it would have happened long ago.
The fix, if it is to happen, will have to come from veterans. It will require them to do that which is unnatural for them. Veterans have been taught to respect authority and the chain of command. But now they need to challenge the VA’s authority because it has turned its back on them and their families. It’s what happens when you combine greed, incompetence, sloth and criminal behavior in an enormous federal bureaucracy.
The nation’s veterans need to organize marches in every congressional district on Veterans Day this November. They should call for abolishing the VA’s system of socialized medicine. They should demand a card, just like a Medicare card, that will enable all of them to receive their medical care where and from whom they wish. If they march nationwide in large numbers with that one message, the VA is doomed. Few congressman, senators or presidential candidates will dare risk that kind of organized voter wrath in 2016.
Its work can be absorbed
In 1959 the VA had the temerity to adopt as its motto a line from President Lincoln’s majestic Second Inaugural Address in 1865, “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”
The VA’s willful failure to live up to that motto amply justifies its demise. Most of its facilities can be absorbed by academic medical centers and community hospitals. Many of its employees, the honest and competent, can be reemployed by those entities.
If you want to obliterate a reckless bureaucracy and unchecked federal spending, abolish the VA before it kills again.
Goldman worked on Capitol Hill and at the National Institutes of Health. He has retired to Flat Rock and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.