The Right Prescription

The Obvious Lessons of the VA Scandal

Government health care is bad for your health.

By 5.19.14

Phillip Longman
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My father was a veteran of World War II, and thus eligible to receive medical treatment at the VA hospital that operated a few miles from our house. He used it exactly once. His experience with what the Veterans Administration calls “health care” was so awful that he claimed to be more in fear of his life within the walls of that VA facility than he had ever been while on active duty in Europe. I confess that, at the time he made this assertion, I assumed he was indulging a penchant for hyperbole. I have long since learned otherwise.

The recent revelations about veterans left for dead on secret waiting lists merely constitute the latest in a long series of scandals involving the atrocious care patients receive at VA hospitals. To provide just a few examples, veterans have gone missing from their rooms and been later found dead of exposure on hospital grounds, they have been exposed en masse to  the HIV virus due to the use of unsterilized instruments, and some have even contracted Legionnaires’ Disease after being rash enough to drink the water at a VA facility.

As to the latest scandal, the people who run the Veterans Medical Healthcare System have known about the waiting list problem for more than a year: “An internal memo from March 2013 obtained by NBC shows top VA officials learned of the problem well before the current allegations.” And it is by no means limited to one or two facilities. As the Washington Post reports, “Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Thursday that similar scandals have surfaced in at least 10 states.”

The only area in which the VA has shown any real diligence is in the venerable art of the cover-up. All of the scandals noted above featured strenuous efforts by the responsible officials to prevent the public from discovering the details of their incompetence and utter indifference to the health of the veterans to whom they provide care. If the secret waiting list scandal follows the usual pattern, the VA bureaucrats will offer up a few scapegoats, implement a couple of token reforms, and announce that the system has been fixed.

The last time we witnessed this charade, it culminated in calls from liberals to redesign the nation’s entire health system based on the new and improved Veterans Medical Healthcare System. I’m not kidding. In 2007, Phillip Longman wrote the following in an article for the Washington Monthly: “Here’s an idea: a civilian VA for the uninsured, and maybe the rest of us.” Longman’s piece sang the praises of the VA and of course promoted his work of fiction, Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours.

What does Longman have to say about the latest scandal? He testified before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs last Wednesday and blamed “red tape” and cumbersome “administrative procedures.” Longman is so delusional that he can’t see these things for what they are — symptoms. The disease is government-run health care. The cycle of scandal and cover-up will keep repeating itself over and over in the VA’s government system, just as it does in those of Great Britain and Canada, until we start treating the disease.

Unfortunately, the Democrats who now control Washington are no more capable of grasping this blindingly obvious reality than is the ridiculous Mr. Longman. Faced with a health care system that required a few genuine reforms, these people produced a health care law that ignores the underlying maladies that bedevil our health care system and actually exacerbates the symptoms. Even worse, as Bill Clinton slyly put it last week, it is so Byzantine that even Albert Einstein couldn’t have implemented it without coming a cropper.

Does anyone really believe the geniuses who created  Obamacare and made a pig’s breakfast of its implementation will have enough sense to do the right thing where the Veterans Administration is concerned? The cure for its ills is privatization. And, even if these people understood that, such a course would be foreign to their policy of growing government. By privatizing the Veterans Medical Healthcare System, the Democrats would deprive themselves of an important excuse to raise taxes and control our lives.

And, make no mistake about it, money and control are what the Democrats care about. They are, along with the White House, simulating outrage of course. Indeed, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough went on Face the Nation yesterday and claimed, “The president is madder than hell.” Right. Neither Obama nor his congressional accomplices give a rat’s posterior about the quality of care endured by the veterans who have fought, and frequently been maimed, to protect the way of life their party has worked so hard to undermine.

If Obama is angry, it’s because the scandal comes at a very bad time in the election cycle. It means nothing to him that a man like my father, who trudged around Europe fighting Nazis for two years, was afraid to go to a VA hospital. Some of the VA scandals cited above occurred on Obama’s watch and he yawned. Moreover, his DOJ has no plans to look into the latest outrages. The lessons of this scandal are that government-run health care doesn’t work and that the Democrats who promote it should be given the bum’s rush in November.

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About the Author

David Catron is a health care revenue cycle expert who has spent more than twenty years working for and consulting with hospitals and medical practices. He has an MBA from the University of Georgia and blogs at Health Care BS.