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May 27, 2016

Our Soldiers Face the Enemy and Then They Face the VA


We send our soldiers out to face the enemy in the battle for freedom, and then we send them to face the government in the battle for health care. Both can be deadly.

CNN reported last September, “307,000 veterans may have died awaiting Veterans Affairs health care, report says.” The report was from the VA’s Office of Inspector General.

That’s more deaths than the Korean War (54,246), Vietnam War (90,220), Persian Gulf War (1,565), and the War on Terror (6,852) combined.

At least on the battlefield, we give our soldiers the skills and tools they need to win; most have no idea how to fight when the enemy is government-run health care. Yet it’s a fight our veterans are in, and one they’ve often lost, for nearly a century.

Does this sound like yesterday’s news?

A new president, promising hope and change, campaigns to help veterans and improve their medical care. He appoints a decorated war hero to head the Veterans Bureau. But soon thousands of veterans complain about wait times and lack of treatment. On the financial side, leaders at the Veterans Bureau cook the books, and make fortunes buying and selling land to build new VA hospitals. Taxpayers lose millions of dollars in fraud and the medical needs of veterans are often ignored.

It’s not. Hillsdale College historian Burt Folsom wrote that two years ago about the political turmoil and financial scandal that surrounded the Veterans Bureau shortly after its creation in 1921—and its successor, the Department of Veterans Affairs, which was opened in 1930.

The name has changed, but the corruption, fraud, mismanagement, and financial overruns remain to this day.

But wait, President Obama signed legislation in August 2014 that was supposed to fix these problems. He said as he signed the bill, “We are going to spend each and every day working to do right by you and your families.”

Chalk that up to another failed Obama promise.

I wrote two months before the legislation passed, “So while Congress may pass something in the wake of the emerging scandal, that legislation would likely include even more money for the VA and may allow some vets to go to the private sector if their waiting line is too long.”

That’s exactly what happened. Congress threw another $16.3 billion at the agency, along with a few safety valves to help those who couldn’t get timely care. All that proved to be mostly worthless.

Nothing like financially rewarding a dysfunctional, corrupt, and broken bureaucracy to assuage your conscience—and ensure that nothing changes.

Now, nearly two years after the legislation passed, the PBS Newshour has just aired a story headlined, “Long wait times for health care still dogging troubled Veterans Affairs department.”

But at least there is some accountability, right? Bureaucrats are being fired for fraud and corruption, correct?

Um, no. After the new VA secretary, Robert McDonald, claimed 60 people had been fired, the New York Times disagreed: “the department punished a total of eight of its 280,000 employees for involvement in the scandal. One was fired, one retired in lieu of termination, one’s termination is pending, and five were reprimanded or suspended for up to two months.”

That would be the same Secretary McDonald who just compared VA wait times to lines at Disney.

And that’s not the worst of it. A VA employee in Puerto Rico was arrested for armed robbery and thrown in jail. The VA fired her, but her union helped her get her job back—with back pay. And a nursing assistant who is charged with manslaughter in a veteran’s death is still on the payroll.

To be fair, many—and perhaps nearly all—of the health care providers at the VA are dedicated and well-trained professionals. I know some of them, and they, like many veterans, also have to fight the system.

The only way to solve this national disgrace is to give our veterans who need health insurance—the large majority of them have it independently, often from their employers—private care and shut down the more than 150 VA health systems.

But I am not optimistic that will happen. Too many unions and politicians benefit from the status quo.

Indeed, instead of the VA becoming more like the private system, thanks to Obamacare the private system is becoming more like the VA.


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