As an organization that serves more than 9 million, it would be difficult to imagine a more complicated system than the United States office of Veterans Affairs (VA). Recent allegations of wrong doing within the VA health care system has erupted in congressional investigations and strong admonishment from President Obama, one of a half-dozen occupants of the Oval Office under whom this system has thoroughly failed its distinguished beneficiaries.
Naturally, the White House spin doctors tried to express the president’s astonishment and outrage over this issue with their typical press room song and dance. When he finally spoke about the matter publically last Wednesday, Mr. Obama said, “I will not stand for it. There must be consequences.”
Of course there was absolutely no mention of exactly what kinds of consequences. Even more insulting was the way the administration has fained ignorance about one of the worst kept secrets in America – that there is a mind-blowing level of back-door politics and bureaucracy grinding away below the V.A.’s spit and polished façade.
Critics of the administration are also using this crisis to, once again, lambaste Democrats over Obamacare, to which they compare the crippled V.A. medical system. Some of them have even suggested that the problems deep in the core of the V.A. health care system will eventually overwhelm Obamacare in a similar manner.
Plagued with technical issues and lackluster participation, the “Affordable Care Act” has not been the overwhelming success once envisioned. Legislating mandated health care coverage for all is one thing, but managing patient care based on politics is quite another.
But if you think it’s a stretch to compare the VA problems with eventual Obamacare snags, consider this. Once the Affordable Care Act became law, the US Government suddenly turned into a middle man for selling health insurance and controlling the care received by the patients. Keep in mind this isn’t a “Conservative vs. Liberal” problem. The simple lesson to be learned here is that the government should stay out of the health care business.
As for the existing VA problems, the congressional hearings so far have managed to do little more than humiliate the head honcho, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, a guy who, while maybe turning a blind eye to these concerns, most certainly inherited the majority of them.
Way back in 1992 director Howard Deutch released a dramatic comedy called, “Article 99,” which followed a V.A. hospital intern played by Kiefer Sutherland who struggled to acclimate in ridiculously bureaucratic and money-driven system where patients are either denied treatment or made to wait months for life-saving procedures until it’s too late. In a style similar to Robert Altman’s original 1970 film, “MASH,” the main characters are dedicated doctors who regularly defy government rules to help get their veteran patients urgently needed care.
Set in present day – 1992, during the Clinton administration – “Article 99” exposes only a few known problems within the veterans’ health care system. Apparently, things grew increasingly worse.
Oddly enough, government’s treatment of veterans (of all ages) can often mirror the way in which American society deals with the elderly; by putting them off a few more times until they eventually die and the problem solves itself. Shameful.
Perhaps it’s time for the V.A.’s executives, congress and the president, maybe even Supreme Court justices, to be forced to wait a ridiculous amount of time for care. It’s a foregone conclusion that a solution would rapidly appear if the Obama daughters had to wait six months to get their tonsils out, or if John Boehner knew that coverage for some future tanning-induced skin cancer would be denied because it wasn’t a work-related condition. Instead, they enjoy free, top-of-the-line medical care, all on the dime of hard-working Americans, including veterans.
So what to do? Well making a blustering speech on TV is a start, but it’s also an overture to a lack of any real action. Firing the head guy is a gesture to appease the public but it’ll last about 12 seconds. Instead, the entire system needs a full shakedown. That’ll take time and money. Meanwhile, more veterans are waiting for treatment. Drop the bureaucracy and treat the patients, regardless of the paperwork and expense.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer based in Jamestown, Ohio. More at www.gerydeer.com.