VHA Controversy Ignores Bigger Flaws With Private Healthcare
Memorial Day seems a fitting time to weigh in on the Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA) scandal. The VHA is on the hot seat now for reported delays in scheduling patients that may have contributed to the deaths of dozens of veterans.
The usual response prevails – heads must roll.
This, of course, will fix nothing. The problems with the VHA are systemic and include a moribund bureaucracy, increased demand for services, and fragmented management that promotes a lack of accountability and apparent cover-ups of scheduling delays for patient care. This is obviously inexcusable, but real reforms have eluded White House administrations of both parties for many decades.
The only president in recent memory to make more than a dent in the VA’s intransigent culture was Bill Clinton – his appointee led a massive turnaround of the VHA to the point where it was justly heralded as exceeding America’s private healthcare sector in quality, safety, cost, and automation. For this herculean effort and success, he was rewarded with partisan rancor about his reappointment that drove him from public service.
Since his departure, the VHA appears to have returned to its old ways – and that’s more than disappointing for both our veterans and the rest of us as well.
Yet this Memorial Day observation is likely to occasion more self-righteous declarations about how we need to take better care of our veterans – and we do. If patient waiting lists have been manipulated to conceal the true extent of delays in patient treatment, then such obvious infractions should be corrected and prevented from reoccurring.
But we also need to place these apparent infractions in their true context to better appreciate how and why they came about so whatever factors drive such behaviors aren’t allowed to continue.
Demand for VHA services has increased by a million and a half veterans over recent years. This is due to a fairer approach to treating the complications of exposure to Agent Orange among Vietnam era veterans and a more aggressive approach to treating post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans of the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
But what’s most irritating about these public flare-ups is the feigned outrage fueled by political ambitions and the drive for ratings and the ad revenues that follow.
Do any of these public carpers really care about the health or fates of our erstwhile military defenders? You know the answer to that – and if you don’t, check their voting records for how they decide to actually fund their services.
Consider this: The House just refused to approve White House efforts to reduce funding for defense spending – showing it’s more controlled by defense hawks than budget hawks.
But they’re not nearly as generous when it comes to funding services for our former service men and women, who lack a big-spending defense lobby and the promise of future campaign funding and employment for “supportive” legislators.
The Senate failed to pass legislation in February that would have expanded the VHA’s capacity to care for veterans. Every vote against this funding was by a Republican senator.
Meanwhile, the staunchest supporter of veterans’ benefits in Congress is its only socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders (I – VT), who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
Bernie mustn’t have gotten the memo the “patriots” on the right received because he’s clearly got it backwards. Imagine wanting to take as good care of those who’ve served us as we do of our bloated defense pals and their overpriced weaponry even our generals don’t want.
True to his word, Sanders plans to refile his legislation this week to force another vote on the matter. Let’s see how the “Support our troops” crowd votes this time around.
Private Healthcare’s an Even Bigger Mess
In the meantime, you should be outraged by the possible premature deaths attributable to the treatment delays in the VHA. But you should be absolutely infuriated by the hundreds of thousands of premature deaths attributed every year to errors and neglect in our private healthcare system – another sorry statistic in which we lead the world.
Sending more of our veterans for care in private hospitals may not prove much of a solution given the fact that it performs even more poorly than the VHA on a host of metrics, including patient satisfaction.
And there are many more Americans than veterans being denied care today in private hospitals across America. We just don’t impose a timetable for scheduling them as does the VHA, so it’s all under the radar.
Included among them are almost three times as many veterans being treated in such private healthcare facilities as in the VHA, which actually enjoys greater customer satisfaction and loyalty than do private hospitals in America.
It’s important to keep in mind that the controversy here is about curtailing access to care, not the care itself. My next post will go into more detail about how the VHA stacks up against our private healthcare system, but for now it’s enough to say that Our Healthcare Sucks was written about it and not the VHA.