What Happened to the VA

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Obama Administration

Now the Right is trying to pump problems in VA medical care into an Obama scandal. For background into who and what are really to blame, I recommend a couple of articles:

Alec MacGillis, Republicans War-Monger, Then Complain When We’re Overwhelmed By Sick Vets

For starters, there is the matter of funding. If there’s been one side pushing for greater resources for the Veterans Administration in the age of austerity these past five years, it hasn’t been the Republicans. It was the much-maligned economic stimulus package of 2009 that included $1 billion for the V.A. While the V.A. itself was protected from the budget sequestration that Republican fought to keep in place last year, many other veterans programs—providing mental health services and housing, among other things—were hit hard by the sequestration cuts. And when the Senate was poised to pass a $24 billion bill for federal healthcare an education programs for veterans three months ago, Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, blocked it in a filibuster, saying the bill would bust the budget and complaining that Senate Democrats had refused to allow an amendment on Iran sanctions to be attached to the bill.

But there is a whole other level of context to consider here as well. There is a pretty basic reason for backlogs at V.A. facilities and in the disability claims process, the other ongoing V.A. mess. Put simply: when you go to war, you get more wounded veterans, and in a country without a universal health care system, they are all funneled into this one agency with limited capacity. Every one of the Republican leaders quoted above attacking Obama for the V.A. backlogs strongly supported launching the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that resulted in nearly 7,000 fatalities and a huge surge in medical needs and disability claims. …

… Something, it appears, happened around 2003 that caused the rate of traumatic brain injuries in the U.S. military to spike. Now what could that have been? Whatever it was, it happened while Barack Obama was in the Illinois state Senate, giving an obscure speech against invading Iraq.

The other article is by Jordain Carney and Stacy Kaper, Who Really Broke Veterans Affairs?. It all boils down to several administrations, from the current one going back to John Kennedy and every administration in between, Democratic and Republican, that in one way or another either added to the VA’s burdens or made policies that made it harder for the VA to function. This is a bipartisan malfunction.

And then there is Congress:

The VA could be overhauled to better address the needs of modern veterans, including reforms to the way it processes claims, assesses the performance of its employees, and measures its overall performance. But putting many of those reforms in place would require an act of Congress—and thus far those haven’t happened.

Instead, Congress has taken a more reactive approach. When incidents—such as the recent hospital deaths—capture public attention, lawmakers hold hearings where they berate VA officials with juicy sound bites they can later play back for their constituents. It’s good political theater, but it’s unclear that the payoff is anything other than political.

So, blame where blame is due.

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Chief  •  May 22, 2014 @9:43 am

    I served in the U.S. Navy for 21 years, from 1958 to 1979. From the time I first became aware of the VA, the VA was held in extremely low esteem. Not respected.

    I have never even attempted to use the VA’s medical facilities.

  2. c u n d gulag  •  May 22, 2014 @9:57 am

    Yes, for decades EVERYONE, Republicans AND Democrats, and anybody else, has been and is to blame for the problems the VA had and still has.

    But not everyone wants to fix things.

    Oh, sure Republicans might come aboard, but only at the expense of privatizing SS, Medicare, and Medicaid, and more cuts to education. And I’m sure John McCain and other Republicans will love to start another war or two (on credit), and create still more veterans.

    Let me tell you my families dealings with the VA.

    There were some issues with our local VA in Upstate NY back in the early ’00’s, but they were fixed – at least to my knowledge.

    When my father (a non-combat Korean war veteran) was dying from cancer a few years ago, the care he got at that VA was top-notch – A+.

    I couldn’t imagine better care, anywhere. The staff was caring and courteous.
    And it was all free – from the tests, to the radiation therapy, to the chemo.
    If it weren’t free, we’d have owed something like $100,000.

    This shouldn’t be a partisan issue! So, put away the Kabuki outfits, Republicans.

    I hope, and expect, that that same kind of care is extended to all of our veterans.

    AND SOONER, RATHER THAN LATER!

    LIKE, NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    FIX IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. joanr16  •  May 22, 2014 @10:46 am

    This is the result of more than 13 years of war, much of that period with two wars being fought at once. I think the title of MacGillis’s piece pretty much sums it up.

    The fact that Obama expresses outrage is an improvement on the Bush/Cheney response, which was to farm out military medical care to old cronies, who would then profiteer at the expense of the vets’ well-being. (See: Walter Reed scandal.)

    Now, if that outrage can translate into actual improvement. (It’s interesting, also, that vets in different parts of the country can have vastly different experiences with and opinions of the system.)

  4. uncledad  •  May 22, 2014 @10:53 am

    I’ve been doing contract work at various VA facilities for years, as for as healthcare facilities go the VA hospitals I’ve been in are mediocre at best and have been long before President Obama. As all things with the federal bureaucracy the contracting process is a joke, they spend money on things they do not need and ignore what they do? So I’m not surprised that other aspects are insufficient. I’m a vet but have never had to deal with the VA but it would be nice to know that if I needed them they would be there? President Obama has had a few weeks to ask for some resignations before the right wing scandal industry got revved up, he seems late to react to this problem again? Now anything he does will be spun as reactionary not leadership!

  5. Ian  •  May 22, 2014 @12:44 pm
  6. Stella  •  May 22, 2014 @12:49 pm

    There’s been a relentless vendetta against Shinseki ever since he tried to tell the truth about George and Dick’s war plans.
    Will they ever tire of making demands for resignations and apologies?

  7. maha  •  May 22, 2014 @3:03 pm

    Will they ever tire of making demands for resignations and apologies?

    No.

  8. The Bobs  •  May 22, 2014 @4:34 pm

    I’m in a VA hospital right now getting cancer treatment. The VA has been taking care of me for the last year and they have been great. These must be local problems because I have received great care at both Palo Alto and Reno.

  9. Bonnie  •  May 22, 2014 @5:11 pm

    What happened to the VA? George W. Bush and the Republicans happened to the VA. I worked for the Federal Government from 1974 through June 2008. The absolutely worst time to work for the Federal Government was under W. His appointees were true incompetents and just about every agency went downhill during those eight years. The only thing that kept most agencies plugging along were the Civil Service workers such as myself and many other people. We would do our best to work around the incompetent agency heads. Sometimes we were successful, sometimes not. Our budgets were slashed and when employees retired, no one was hired to replace them. I did not have to retire then; but, chose to because each year, the incompetent supervisors would find there way to the next level down. The closer they got to my level, working conditions deteriorated. I decided it wasn’t worth the effort any more and retired, which was the best way to improve the quality of my life. I know many other Feds who left at the same time for the same reason.

  10. joel hanes  •  May 22, 2014 @7:45 pm

    It all boils down to several administrations, from the current one going back to John Kennedy and every administration in between, Democratic and Republican

    President Clinton made a priority of improving the VA, and succeeded in that goal, just as he vastly improved FEMA.

  11. Doug  •  May 22, 2014 @8:44 pm

    I’m a Navy vet, and used the VA occasionally with no horror stories, but I had no life-threatening injuries or illness. I worked at the VA for a short time when they were first transitioning to computers. My observation from 1990 was that the system was overburdened – more patients than the facilities were designed to handle. Since then, I have seen some outpatient VA clinics which take some of the strain off the central VA hospitals.

    There’s a tendency for the VA to be a pill factory because patients see different doctors for different problems and the doctors tend to diagnose and prescribe. The cumulative effect of the clinic system can be a patient with literally dozens of prescriptions and no single doctor with oversight. I see specialists now but I’m sent to them by my family doctor and she knows every diagnosis and prescription, possible side effects and drug interaction. Plus she knows me, so lifestyle, stress and diet are considered.

    The VA did not benefit from the trial programs which privatized VA medicine under Bush. Still there are conservatives who want to privatize the entire VA system and turn it into a cash cow for some corporation. The profit motive stands in opposition to quality of care. Medicine is a commodity better socialized than privatized.



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