Disband and Replace the Veterans Affairs Department?

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May 10, 2014; San Antonio Express-News

Just the other day, Senator Bernie Sanders warned that Republicans would try to make hay out of the expanding scandal of fudged waitlists at VA hospitals and clinics to try to privatize the VA system. He’s right; it’s happening.

In the San Antonio Express-News, George Block, identified as the chairman of the board of San Antonio Sports and Voices for Children, argues that “at one time, the VA had a purpose” due to the average hospital’s inexperience years back with treating patients with the physical and psychological challenges of veterans of war. He suggests that times have changed and typical urban hospitals can do what VA hospitals do. He further argues that the financial argument for the VA can’t be justified, that veterans could be offered “Gold Level” insurance coverage to replace their VA medical benefits, essentially incorporating veterans healthcare into the national healthcare system—the ACA or otherwise.

“Small government Republicans should be standing up and shouting for the VA to be closed,” Block writes, confirming the Sanders prediction.

However, he throws an incentive to nonprofits to buy into the concept. “A nationwide system of nonprofits has sprung up in the last 20 years as a result of the VA’s failure to provide timely or comprehensive services,” Block says. “These organizations are grossly underfunded, but doing heroic work. Closing the VA and diverting funds to these nonprofits would allow them to grow to scale and provide the level of services that they have always aspired to provide.”

Whether or not General Eric Shinseki has done a good or bad job overall at the helm of the VA or whether he has mishandled the expanding VA hospital scheduling crisis isn’t really the issue. It is now a matter of whether this latest VA crisis, on the heels of well documented problems in the VA regarding backlogs for veterans to receive disability benefits and other VA services, has revealed a fundamental problem in the agency’s ability to deliver on its mission. Just because the VA exists doesn’t mean that it has to exist; just because there are problems in the VA system doesn’t automatically justify a reversion to the Republican default position of turning to the private sector.

While no major veterans organization has called for the elimination of the VA itself, two have called for Shinseki’s resignation—the American Legion and the Concerned Veterans of America. Neither organization has called for doing away with the VA overall. The current crisis and the responses of Shinseki and others in the VA’s top leadership have attracted more significant and influential critics than George Block of San Antonio to the suggestion that the solution may be a replacement of the VA. For example, Newt Gingrich wrote last week, “The entire VA model needs to be replaced. The current system is an obsolete, paper-based bureaucracy incapable of serving America’s veterans.”

Late last week, Senator John McCain (R-VA) held a field hearing to hear the complaints of Arizona veterans. (Phoenix was the first of the VA hospital sites where a whistleblower alleged veterans had died while waiting for appointments.) He had to face a gathering of veterans who were suspicious that the problems of the VA could be remedied. One veteran, Chuck Burns, from Gilbert, AZ, testified that in his view, “the VA healthcare system is broken.” The frustration of all of the veterans at the hearing was palpable. But McCain, a Republican, said at the Phoenix hearing, “I think it would be terrible if we did away with the VA”.

Will nonprofits join the sub rosa call for the replacement of the VA and its being carved up and turned over to charity service delivers?–Rick Cohen

  • steve feinman

    Small government conservative always assume other then government is the solution. Whether the VA remains in the government, which it is likely to do, shifting it to non profits will not solve the problem. There is an old saying from some non descript corner of America, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. Shifting VA responsibility out to non profits stuck
    to congress will create a vast array of piglets with lipstick.

  • Xy

    Accountability has been used like toilet paper and thrown overboard.

    How predictable was it that those who are smart enough to try playing stupid would come to the defense of those who’ve been killing off our veterans, and that NOBODY GOING TO JAIL upholds accountability.

    If a prison doctor allowed John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, or James Eagan Holmes to die by denying medical care, he would be charged with murder. For years, disabled veterans have been dying the same way, all across the country. Why has nobody been arrested? Why are politicians not even willing to call it a crime?

    I’M COMPLETELY SERIOUS ABOUT THIS QUESTION: When will we get the same legal protections as those given to serial-cannibals, murder-cult leaders, and mass murderers who empty shotguns into kids and pregnant women?

    I know it IS horribly out of proportion to compare VA Hospitals to these murderous felons. John Wayne Gacy wasn’t entrusted to heal his neighbors, Charles Manson didn’t swindle bonuses, and the Aurora Killer never tried to hide his crimes.

    ACCOUNTABILITY IS NOT “UPHELD.” “ACCOUNTABILITY” is being murdered as unjustly as our disabled veterans.

    If only our disabled veterans had been convicted serial-cannibal, murder-cult, mass-murdering, destroyer of women and children, maybe THEN somebody would be going to jail.

    Until then, however, let this be a lesson to all doctors ready to walmart our disabled veterans into an early grave: “DON’T GET CAUGHT!”

    Getting caught is so destructive to the appearance of credibility they work so hard to pretend to care about.

    Here’s hoping somebody out there starts making a secret list of their own.

  • RSJA

    Historically, this problem arose with opening up VA health care to catagory 7 & 8 Vets circa the mid-90s. Ordinary veterans with no injury in service were allowed to enrole in VA health care. They received treatment for “non-service connected” diseases and injuries. It placed a huge burden on VA healthcare. VA treatement for “service-connected” injuries declined as the WWII veterans’ numbers dwindled. With fewer and fewer service-connected treatments, VA budget increased year after year for the “free” medicine VA dispensed to the new Catagory 7s and 8s. The obligation of the US is to provide treatement for service-conneted conditions. Those people who honorably served, but did not get injured is not the responsiblitiy of the VA.

    The system could easily be privitized with Gold insurance for the treatement of service-connected injuries/diseases. Reimbursement would be 100% of the MEDICARE rate w/ no deductible and full coverage of Meds. Cut all the rest and VA healthcare could go away. It is the cost of all these VA government workers and the “gold plated” VA construction that is driving up the budget. The numbers of serv0ce-connected injuries and deseases has declined exponentially.

  • Gary

    We need to re-think the entire VA Health Care System. What makes the VA think they can provide services for less money than local hospitals. If a veteran is entitled to health care benefits due to retirement, disability then they should be issued a Blue Cross Blue Shield card and let the veteran use any facility in the BCBS network. The federal civil service workers have a Blue Cross Blue Shield health care policy. We should treat the veteran’s the same way.

    For the VA to run an entire health care system for veteran health care is ridiculous. In my area they have local VA Clinic and then if they can’t handle the problem they put you on the VA Hospital bus and take them to the VA Hospital 150 miles away. This entire VA Health care program is just out of step with real world circumstances.