Watching the news coverage on the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs, I’ve been trying to sort out what’s going on. The immediate problem is that vets have to wait forever for an appointment to get medical service. “Forty vets have died,” we are told, “while waiting for treatment.” There’s general agreement that that’s intolerable. In addition, there’s evidence that the VA staff has been falsifying records in order to cover up long wait times for appointments. The consensus is that it’s a staff problem.
That doesn’t add up to me. When a problem appears in any unit of government why do we immediately assume it’s a personnel problem? I’ve only heard one pundit ask whether the VA could possibly have a funding problem, and he was immediately jumped on. We want to think we love our vets and we’re a generous people, so we tell them that when they’ve completed their service they’ll get quality medical care (if not free, then at least cheap) for life.
All of the vets of all our wars over the past 75 years supposedly get government medical care? Really? We have 2 million new vets just from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That’s a lot of vets and a lot of expense. During the height of the Iraq war, the VA budget was being increased by only one half of 1 percent. How could anyone think that would be adequate? Do we have enough doctors and nurses in our VA facilities to handle the need? If not, why not? Are we offering enough money to attract good doctors? Are the salaries being offered competitive?
And why isn’t anyone asking these questions? Is it that no one wants to open Pandora’s box? Maybe we know that if we figured realistically the cost of providing staff, facilities and equipment for adequate medical care for our vets, then that cost might just blow us away.
Rachel Maddow, in her book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, writes that every military program we initiate has eternal life. Take intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Cold War is over and the missiles no longer serve any strategic purpose, but to dismantle the whole program and save mountains of money would be unthinkable.
We now have universal healthcare. Maybe it’s time to dismantle the VA and direct our vets to Obamacare, rather than leave them waiting forever for an appointment at the VA. The VA is not serving them and will not serve them, because we don’t want to pay for it and we won’t pay for it, but we won’t admit that.
The Rev. Leonard Klippen, Miami