By Ray Starmann
Yesterday, VA Secretary, Robert MacDonald set off a firestorm in the media when he compared long lines at Disneyland to the wait times veterans experience for health care, an analogy that riled veterans groups and lawmakers alike.
MacDonald of all people should know better. He is a graduate of West Point and served with the famous All-American Division, the 82nd Airborne, before out-processing to greener pastures, namely Procter and Gamble, where he rose to CEO of the company before retiring from the private sector.
Apparently, it doesn’t take too long to go from a free enterprise rainmaker to a federal bureaucratic buffoon.
MacDonald was attempting to convey that even though families have to wait in long lines to enter Disneyland, the wait is worth it because you’ll eventually have a Brady Bunch experience of a lifetime with Mickey Mouse.
Unfortunately, for veterans, waiting in line is just the beginning of the VA experience, which is touch and go at best, and crash and burn at worst.
Some of the vets who use the VA system are poor and believe that the VA is their best shot for health care. But, not all are economically downtrodden. For vets, coming to the VA might be their only chance to interact with other vets, in a society that has a hard time relating to military personnel, past and present. Others, particularly amputees, may find that the VA is their only option, as private health care companies will deny claims from injuries incurred in a war zone.
Some of the veterans who use the system are in between jobs and may have lost access to private health care. For others, who are self-employed, Obama Care may be too expensive.
At the Westwood VA in Los Angeles, there are many Vietnam vets who use the facility, people who didn’t have a rich father like Mitt Romney, who got him a job tutoring Mormons in France, to avoid the killing fields of Southeast Asia.
I’ve seen young women who look like they should be in a sorority house, but instead are hobbling around the corridors of the VA with artificial limbs, their natural limbs having been decimated by IEDs in Iraq.
I’ve seen an old man wearing a Bataan Death March Survivor cap, who, when he entered a clinic brought a hush of reverence by other vets, as if the Angel of God himself had just walked into the room.
MacDonald’s comments are the latest in a litany of issues and debacles involving the whole VA hospital system; from veterans dying while waiting to see a doctor in Phoenix to cockroaches in the food at the Chicago VA Hospital, the problems seem endless and insurmountable.
While the VA’s main issues seem to emanate from the bureaucrats at the top in Washington and the administrators throughout the country, the staffs and workers at VA hospitals are usually friendly and go out of their way to assist you.
The people at the Westwood VA are one heck of a lot nicer than the snippy snobs that man the phones and desks in Los Angeles doctors’ offices. Unfortunately, as nice as they are at the VA, they still can’t compensate for a system that is overwhelmed and inefficient and dangerous to the patient.
Last year, I walked into the ENT clinic at the Westwood VA. As millions of dollars’ worth of equipment hummed in the background and staff darted in between offices, I was told that they would call me with an appointment and I would be able to come back in 14 days. I walked out, called my private ENT doctor in Los Angeles and his receptionist told me to come over within the hour. My life and death situation; ear wax: the VA couldn’t even handle that and there was no one in the ENT clinic when I walked in, except for one man reading Popular Mechanics.
The other problems VA hospitals have are a lack of continuity. You can visit one clinic that looks like Johns Hopkins and then travel down the hall to another clinic that reminds you of a medical office in 1959 Cuba.
All vets deserve better, a hell of a lot better from a country that they served so selflessly. But, nothing is ever done to fix the endless problems. We’ve watched as VA officials have been fired, demoted and reshuffled like a pack of cards with five aces. Many VA officials are paid well and seemingly don’t care about the people they’re supposed to be helping, the vets.
Vets are finding out that their worst enemy is the member of Congress who never served and therefore doesn’t have a clue to what a vet experiences. The clueless civilians are fully stocked in Congress now, like packages of cheap cookies at Aldi.
In a nutshell, the federal government is incapable of running the VA hospital system and the VA’s internal administrators are incompetent as well. The VA hospitals are nothing more than a really bad HMO on a continual train wreck.
The VA hospitals must be shut down and replaced by private health care for vets. The federal government could mandate a so-called Vets Care that would work the same as Medicare. Veterans would be able to go to any private doctor that they wanted. All they would have to do is show their VA card. The system would function on an income means system. Vets with incomes under a certain level wouldn’t have to pay a dime. Veterans who earn higher incomes would have to fork out minimal copays for doctor’s visits and prescriptions.
This Vets Care system would be more efficient than the broken, disgraceful VA hospital system in place today. Changes are needed, cataclysmic changes to finally fix a system that has failed the nation’s veterans for decades.
It’s high time for the veterans in Congress to get off their collective duffs and finally start the wheels moving to end the VA hospital system and create a private health care system for veterans.