Saturday, May 31, 2014

Veterans Affairs: Why is the system broken?

“In a world of faux outrage,” said Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post, “finally we have something about which to be scandalized.” Officials running the Veterans Affairs Department, the nation has learned, may have systematically falsified records to cover up long, deadly delays in VA hospitals. A backlog of 300,000 veterans have been awaiting treatment for more than four months, and as many as 40 may have died at one Phoenix VA hospital alone while waiting for care. This scandal has caught President Obama flat-footed, as usual, said Michael Gerson in Obama—who pledged to reform the VA while running for president in 2008—rushed to assume his now-familiar role of “outraged bystander” to the dysfunction in his own administration, while leaving VA head Eric Shinseki in his job. It’s the same faux outrage Obama expressed over the IRS and Benghazi fiascoes and the meltdown of Obamacare’s Web portal. When the president keeps insisting he had no idea that his underlings were so incompetent, it’s “more of a self-indictment than a defense.”
The roots of the VA’s current problems “stretch back decades before Obama took the Oval Office,” said Jordain Carney and Stacy Kaper in President Kennedy’s decision to use the toxic defoliant Agent Orange in Vietnam started a decades-long health catastrophe for U.S. troops—one that floods the VA with hundreds of thousands of claims to this day. The VA has been broken for decades, but every president since Richard Nixon has failed to get it truly fixed. Conservatives’ hypocrisy on this issue “is truly something to behold,” said Alec MacGillis in NewRepublic​.com. These are the same people who launched disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, sending 2.3 million soldiers into harm’s way over a decade. With more than 970,000 of those soldiers filing a disability claim, many of them for hard-to-verify conditions such as traumatic brain in-juries and PTSD, the Bush-era wars overwhelmed the VA. You’d think Republicans would “have enough self-awareness to resist scoring political points.”
Obama has been president for six years, so he has no excuses, said Rich Lowry in Indeed, he has spent much of his presidency trying to convince Americans that federal bureaucrats can deliver health care more efficiently than the free market. Now his own Veterans Affairs Department—“an island of socialism in American health care”—is proving that government-run health care leads inevitably to long waits, corruption, and rationing of care. During the Obamacare debate, liberals would often point to the VA as a “good example of a single-payer, socialized health system,” notes J.D. Tuccille in Unfortunately for our veterans, it turns out they were right.
Obama’s critics have a point, said Paul Waldman in Washington​ “If Democrats are going to argue that government can be a force for good, their most basic responsibility is to make government work.” That said, there’s an opportunity here for Obama. This scandal consists of concrete problems he doesn’t need congressional permission to fix. If Obama can make the VA work, he could redeem the liberal vision of government. As an Iraq veteran with PTSD, author Colby Buzzell is more concerned with tangible results as opposed to politics. He tells The New York Times, "It’d be nice for veterans to just call or walk into a V.A. hospital and see somebody and be taken care of the same day. I don’t think that’d be asking a lot.”

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