WSJ op-ed explains socialism by using the VA

The Department of Veterans Affairs proudly proclaims that it operates programs that benefit veterans and their families by offering education, rehabilitation, disability and death benefits, as well as home loan guaranties, pensions, burials and health care.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal today, Karl Zinsmeister uses the VA to highlight the consequences of socialism. It was widely reported that vets died waiting for care at VA hospitals and those hospitals falsified records of wait times to cover up their incompetence.

But what are the consequences of discharge to grave dependence?

Zinsmeister notes that after World War II just 11 percent of veterans were granted disability payments. Though only a small fraction of post-911 vets have actually engaged in fighting, today close to half of vets being discharged request lifelong disability benefits.

“The more plausible diagnosis for most veterans is that they suffer from the invisible wounds of government dependency,” the op-ed suggests.

Zinsmeister notes that Medicare for All might not sound so attractive if it were called VA Benefits for All.

VA hospital in Pheonix. (AP pix via WSJ)

Editorial: Past time to abolish VA health system and give vets vouchers

This past week the Department of Veterans Affairs reluctantly released to USA Today quality of care rankings — one to five stars with one being the poorest and five the best — for its 146 VA medical centers. The VA health facilities in Las Vegas and Reno warranted only two stars each, placing them solidly in the bottom third in the rankings.

At about the same time the agency also released Inspector General reports on wait time manipulation at facilities in eight states, including one for the mental health division of the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System in Las Vegas.

The IG has been looking into wait time manipulation for the past couple of years after it was learned a number of VA medical centers lied about how long veterans were delayed in receiving medical care.

North Las Vegas VA Medical Center

North Las Vegas VA Medical Center

In 2014 it was revealed that the VA hospital in Phoenix was claiming veterans waited an average of 24 days for their first primary care appointment, when the average was actually 115 days. There were 1,400 vets on the official waiting list, but another 1,700 who were not even included on that list. Some died waiting to be seen by a doctor.

A subsequent audit found 64 percent of VA facilities had tampered with waiting lists.

The recent report on the Las Vegas waiting list said the inspection was launched following a complaint by a former VA mental health staffer who said he and others were directed by their boss to schedule the next available mental health appointment date as a vet’s desired appointment date, even when that was untrue.

He said he was told to do this “so the numbers looked good” and it appeared there was no waiting.

The IG interviewed 11 VA employees and reviewed emails. Though many staffers denied being pressured to manipulate the wait times, most admitted the methodology of recording desired appointments had this effect.

The report said of one staffer: “He stated that he was told the only acceptable wait time for appointments was zero days. He said he was told by a lead MSA (medical support assistant) to cancel appointments for veterans with wait times and reschedule them using the next available appointment date as the veterans’ desired date so that the wait times appeared to be zero. … He said this was done to make the wait times appear shorter than what they actually were.”Still another staffer said she was handed a list of 50 patients by her boss and told the appointments had been scheduled improperly. The wait times varied from 45 to 60 days. She was told the patients agreed to the appointment date, so the appointment date should be recorded as the desired date, making the wait time zero.

The report concluded, “The investigation determined that some MSAs were not scheduling appointments correctly because of confusion over the scheduling directive, incorrect information from coworkers, and incorrect information received during previous training. Several of the MSAs interviewed indicated that they were directed by supervisors to manipulate scheduling data.”Though the report was referred to the VA’s Office of Accountability Review back in February, there was no indication any disciplinary action was taken.

The local VA released a statement to the Las Vegas newspaper saying, “The VA Office of Accountability reviewed the … findings and concluded there were no accountability issues that warranted action and that revised training addressed the scheduling deficiencies discovered.”The problem is that the VA health system is socialized medicine, pure and simple. A bureaucracy, like any other organism, has at its base the objective of self-preservation, not the objective to provide quality service. No matter who President-elect Trump may appoint to head the agency, it will fail, as it has done so over and over again over the decades.

Nevada has had more than its share of VA woes. The VA Medical Center in North Las Vegas cost $1 billion to build — twice what a private hospital costs — and took four years longer than scheduled. It opened with too small of an emergency room and no ambulance drop-off ramp.

For rural vets it is too long a drive to Reno or Las Vegas.It is time to dismantle the VA health care system and give veterans vouchers to use at whatever doctor or hospital they wish.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

UPDATE: Some newspaper editorials are so persuasive that they get considered even before they are published. In a meeting this week the president-elect was asked about the possibility of veterans being given an option allowing them to go to any hospital of their choice.

First they fought the wars, and then they fought the system … and lost

Where were you in 1966?

Personally, I was still a year away from enlisting in the Air Force, using a student deferment to avoid the draft while figuring out the Army draftees got shot at, but in the Air Force it was the officers who got shot at.

But fodder is fodder.

Today The New York Times recounts the tales of some of the 1,600 untrained airmen who were dispatched in January 1966 to pick up the debris that was left when a B-52 collided with its refueling tanker and dropped its cargo of four nuclear bombs on the Spanish Mediterranean coastal farming village of Palomares.

One landed in soft dirt and another in the sea, but two had their high-explosives surrounding their plutonium cores blast a hole in the earth, scattering radiative material over many acres.

Here are a few telling excerpts from the very lengthy piece relating the 50-year battle those men have gone through:

“There was no talk about radiation or plutonium or anything else,” said Frank B. Thompson, a then 22-year-old trombone player who spent days searching contaminated fields without protective equipment or even a change of clothes. “They told us it was safe, and we were dumb enough, I guess, to believe them.”

Mr. Thompson, 72, now has cancer in his liver, a lung and a kidney. He pays $2,200 a month for treatment that would be free at a Veterans Affairs hospital if the Air Force recognized him as a victim of radiation. …

Of 40 veterans who helped with the cleanup who The New York Times identified, 21 had cancer. Nine had died from it. …

At the crash site, Mr. Slone, a military police officer at the time, said he was given a plastic bag and told to pick up radioactive fragments with his bare hands. “A couple times they checked me with a Geiger counter and it went clear off the scale,” he said. “But they never took my name, never followed up with me.” …

The Air Force also denies any harm was done to 500 other veterans who cleaned up a nearly identical crash in Thule, Greenland, in 1968. Those veterans tried to sue the Defense Department in 1995, but the case was dismissed because federal law shields the military from negligence claims by troops. All of the named plaintiffs have since died of cancer. …

“First they denied I was even there, then they denied there was any radiation,” said Ronald R. Howell, 71, who recently had a brain tumor removed. “I submit a claim, and they deny. I submit appeal, and they deny. Now I’m all out of appeals.” He sighed, then continued. “Pretty soon, we’ll all be dead and they will have succeeded at covering this whole thing up.” …

Plutonium does not emit the type of penetrating radiation often associated with nuclear blasts, which causes immediately obvious health effects, such as burns. It shoots off alpha particles that travel only a few inches and cannot penetrate the skin. Outside the body, scientists say, it is relatively harmless, but specks absorbed in the body, usually through inhaling dust, shoot off a continuous shower of radioactive particles thousands of times a minute, gradually exacting damage that can cause cancer and other diseases decades later. …

The day after the crash, busloads of troops started arriving from United States bases, bringing radiation-detection equipment. William Jackson, a young Air Force lieutenant, helped with some of the first testing near the craters, using a hand-held alpha particle counter that could measure up to two million alpha particles per minute.

“Almost everywhere we pointed the machine it pegged at the highest reading,” he said. “But we were told that type of radiation would not penetrate the skin. We were told it was safe.” …

The Air Force bought tons of contaminated tomatoes from local fields that the Spanish public refused to eat. To assure the public there was no danger, commanders fed the tomatoes to the troops. Though the risk from eating plutonium is much lower than the risk from inhaling it, it is still not safe. …

To assure villagers their homes were safe, the Air Force sent young airmen into local houses with hand-held radiation detectors. Peter M. Ricard, then a 20-year-old cook with no training on the equipment, remembers being told to perform scans of anything locals wanted, but to keep his detector turned off.

“We were just supposed to feign our readings so we didn’t cause turmoil with the natives,” he said in an interview. “I often think about that now. I wasn’t too smart back then. They say do it and you just say, ‘Yes, sir.’” …

Troops started to get sick soon after the cleanup ended. Healthy men in their 20s were crippled by joint pain, headaches and weakness. Doctors said it was arthritis. A young military policeman was plagued by sinus swelling so acute that he would bang his head on the floor to distract himself from the pain. Doctors said it was allergies.

Several men got rashes or growths. An airman named Noris N. Paul had cysts severe enough that he spent six months in the hospital in 1967 getting skin grafts. He also became infertile.

“No one knew what was wrong with me,” Mr. Paul said.

A grocery supply clerk named Arthur Kindler, who had been so covered in plutonium while searching the tomato fields a few days after the blast that the Air Force made him wash off in the ocean and took his clothes, got testicular cancer and a rare lung infection that nearly killed him four years after the crash. In the years since, he has had cancer of his lymph nodes three times.

“It took me a long time to start to realize this maybe had to do with cleaning up the bombs,” Mr. Kindler, 74, said in an interview from his home in Tuscon. “You have to understand, they told us everything was safe. We were young. We trusted them. Why would they lie?”

Mr. Kindler filed twice for help from the Department of Veterans Affairs. “They always denied me,” he said. “Eventually, I just gave up.” …

On a recent rainy morning, Nona A. Watson, a retired science teacher in Buckhead, Ga., held open the door of a veterans medical center in Atlanta for her husband, Nolan F. Watson, who hobbled in, his shuddering hand unable to steady his cane.

As a 22-year-old dog handler, Mr. Watson slept in the dirt just feet from one of the bomb craters the day after the blast. A year later, he was racked by blinding headaches and hips so stiff he could barely walk. At the time, he asked the Department of Veterans Affairs for help. He said he was turned away. For years he had problems with painful joints, kidney stones and localized skin cancer. In 2002, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, and one of his kidneys was removed. In 2010, more cancer showed up in his remaining kidney. Recent abnormal blood tests suggested leukemia.

“I think it ruined my life,” he said. “I was young, in good shape. But since that day, I’ve had problems all the time.”

Mr. Watson, now 73, had filed a claim with the veterans agency that was denied and he was in the process of appealing. Other veterans of Palomares had warned him that it was a waste of time. Only one Palomares veteran they knew of had succeeded in claiming harm from radiation, and it took 10 years, at which point he was bedridden with stomach cancer. But Mr. Watson wanted to come to the medical center to give personal testimony about his plutonium exposure.

In the center’s waiting room, his nose began to bleed.

“I’m going to speak my piece, dang it.” Mr. Watson said. “They know this whole thing is a lie.”

According to History.com, in October 2015 the U.S. agreed to finish the 50-year-old cleanup of the site in Palomares. The nuclear-contaminated soil is to be disposed of at a site in the United States. Yucca Mountain perhaps?

NY Times: Some men doing the dustiest work were given coveralls and paper surgical masks for safety, but a later report by the Defense Nuclear Agency said, “It is doubtful that the use of the surgical mask served more than a psychological barrier.” (Air Force photo)

VA secretary explains just how Mickey Mouse his agency has become

“When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?” Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Monday. “And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.”

That is simply crass, crude, clueless and obtuse.

Waiting to board an amusement park ride is a bit different from waiting for pain-relieving or even life-saving medical care. You can’t ask the deceased what their level of satisfaction was.

Nevada’s junior Sen. Dean Heller unloaded in a letter to McDonald:

I write to you extremely concerned about the comments you made on May 23, 2016, comparing the length of time veterans wait to receive health care at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to the length of time people wait for rides at Disneyland. Not only am I concerned about the flippant nature of your comparison but also the fact that you said that your agency should not use wait times as a measure of success because Disney does not either.  As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I believe it is my responsibility to follow up with you on the gravity of this issue as it critical to ensure that Veterans across my state are receiving the care they were promised in an expedient manner.

When men and women across our nation committed to serving America and risking their lives to protect us, our country promised that, in return, we would care for these service members upon their return home. This is not a Disney fairytale Mr. Secretary, this is reality. Recent statistics from Nevada show nearly 10,000 VA appointments remain scheduled over 30 days from the requested date. Given the issues that Nevada’s Veterans continue to face accessing VA health care, I do not believe that promise has been kept. Just a few weeks ago, I heard from a Nevada veteran’s wife about the difficulty she faced scheduling a cardiology appointment for her husband. When there are life-threatening issues that can make or break a veterans’ health, waiting is not an option, and Nevada’s veterans deserve better.

Time and time again, I have called for accountability at your agency, and I strongly believe that it should start with the top.  This is why your comments were not only disrespectful but harmful to ensuring that there will be any real change at the VA when it comes to the timeliness of health care appointment wait times.

A year ago The Associated Press reported that the number of veterans waiting more than 30 or 60 days for non-emergency care has largely stayed flat, while the number of medical appointments that take longer than 90 days to complete had nearly doubled.

Nate Beeler

This was nearly a year after Congress doled out $16 billion to solve the problem of lengthy waiting lists. VA officials had been manipulating the waiting lists to make them look like vets were waiting less time to see a doctor than was actually happening.

In March of this year the Government Accountability Office reported that it studied 180 veterans newly enrolled in the VA health system. Sixty of that 180 had not yet seen a health provider and “nearly half were unable to access primary care because VA medical center staff did not schedule appointments for these veterans in accordance with VHA policy. The 120 newly enrolled veterans in GAO’s review who were seen by providers waited from 22 days to 71 days from their requests that VA contact them to schedule appointments to when they were seen, according to GAO’s analysis.”

The analysis found that the system lacks a comprehensive scheduling policy and there were ongoing scheduling errors. A VA report in September found nearly 900,000 listed as “pending” for health care, but Social Security records listed 300,000 of those as deceased.

What did McDonald do with that $16 billion? Go to Disneyland?

Heller asked the VA secretary to answer these questions by May 30:

— Does the VA remain committed to providing appointments to veterans within 30 days of the request?

— What are the current VA appointment wait times for veterans in Nevada and nationwide?

— For each fiscal year since implementation of the Choice Act, how many VA health care beneficiaries are obtaining appointments through the Choice Program as a result of an appointment wait time of 30 days or more?

— How do you explain to veterans that you believe their wait time for care is just as important as a wait time at an amusement park?

— When did your view on appointment wait times change to the point that you believe wait time should not even be a measure for the VA?

— Do you believe that the VA cannot achieve both timely and quality care simultaneously.

— Do you believe you are still fit to serve and advocate on behalf of veterans as the VA Secretary if you aren’t prioritizing the timeliness of their health care — the very reason you became Secretary in the midst of the 2014 VA health care scandal?

It matters not whether McDonald still thinks he is fit to serve. Does Congress? Better yet, what do veterans think?

McDonald put out a press release today that basically blames others for misunderstanding his commitment to improving the VA and offered no apology for his cluelessness and highly inappropriate remark. “If my comments Monday led any Veterans to believe that I, or the dedicated workforce I am privileged to lead, don’t take that noble mission seriously, I deeply regret that. Nothing could be further from the truth,” the statement reads.

For the record, Disney has spent more than $1 billion on something called the Disney MagicBand so customers don’t have to wait in long lines.

Nevada’s senior Sen. Harry Reid defended McDonald today.

“I support Secretary McDonald all the way. …” Reid was quoted as saying. “I’m an expert on poor choice of words. … I’m sure he would be the first to tell you, following my example, saying the wrong things is not the best way to go.”

Masters of malaprops still together.

Republican Congressman Joe Heck, who is running for Reid’s Senate seat also weighed in. He used the callow McDonald gaffe to call for passage of the stalled VA Accountability Act, which he said is intended to address the agency’s defensive culture and pattern of offering excuses instead of solutions.

“Secretary McDonald’s double down on his callous remarks invoking Disneyland is alarming because it suggests the defensive culture among management at the VA, which lead to the falsification of wait-time reports in the first place, persists under his leadership,” said Heck, a brigadier general in the Army Reserve medical corps and a veteran of the Iraq conflict.

“The remedy to the VA’s culture of excuses is a needed dose of accountability. Unfortunately, the federal civil service, which makes it extremely difficult to remove negligent or unethical employees, remains an obstacle to such reform,” Heck added, noting that the VA Accountability Act passed the House but is stalled in Reid’s Senate. “Every day that the VA’s accountability problem goes unaddressed, taxpayers are being forced to foot the bill for the salaries of failed bureaucrats. Our veterans have given us all they have. Seeing that they get the care and benefits they need, earned and deserve is the very least we can do.”

Well, the VA is apparently doing the least it can do.

Surprisingly, former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who is running for Reid’s seat from the Democratic side, parted company with shrugging Reid and blasted oafish McDonald.

“Even for Washington, the tone deafness of these comments is stunning,” she said in a statement. “The VA needs to address the wait times at its facilities so our veterans get the care they need in a timely manner, not offer up false analogies and excuses. It’s long past time for the VA to get its act together.”

 

VA providing classic example of just how socialized medicine doesn’t work

Obama signs the Veterans’ Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, at Fort Belvoir, Va., Aug. 7, 2014. The bill was intended to provide the Department of Veterans Affairs the resources to improve access and quality of care for veterans. (White House photo)

Thank goodness that after World War II the government did not open a bunch of Veterans’ colleges but instead provided the GI Bill to finance higher education for veterans.

Healthcare is another matter altogether.

In the summer of 2014 after learning of veterans dying while waiting to see a Veterans Affairs health system doctor, Congress doled out $16 billion to solve the problem. VA officials had been manipulating the waiting lists to make them look like vets were waiting less time to see a doctor than was actually happening.

A year later, The Associated Press reported that the number of veterans waiting more than 30 or 60 days for non-emergency care has largely stayed flat, while the number of medical appointments that take longer than 90 days to complete had nearly doubled.

In March the Government Accountability Office reported that it studied 180 veterans newly enrolled in the VA health system. Sixty of that 180 had not yet seen a health provider and “nearly half were unable to access primary care because VA medical center staff did not schedule appointments for these veterans in accordance with VHA policy. The 120 newly enrolled veterans in GAO’s review who were seen by providers waited from 22 days to 71 days from their requests that VA contact them to schedule appointments to when they were seen, according to GAO’s analysis.”

The analysis found that the system lacks a comprehensive scheduling policy and data weaknesses. In addition there were ongoing scheduling errors.

Nothing seems to change. A VA report in September found nearly 900,000 listed as “pending” for health care, but Social Security records listed 300,000 of those as deceased.

“This will not and cannot be the end of our effort,” Obama said when he ceremoniously signed the bill providing the $16 billion in additional VA funding. “And even as we focus on the urgent reforms we need at the VA right now, particularly around wait lists and the health care system, we can’t lose sight of our long-term goals for our service members and our veterans.”

As Investor’s Business Daily noted in an editorial: “In the meantime, however, the ongoing scandal at the VA should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks socialized medicine is a good idea.”

The bureaucracy is impenetrable.

 

 

 

 

Replacing head of VA is like rearranging deck chairs

So, Sen. Dean Heller has joined the chorus of calls for ousting VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, saying:

“The Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General’s report provides a very disturbing view of what has been confirmed as a systemic problem at the VA. Poor management must not be allowed to stand in the way of providing quality care for veterans in Nevada and across the country. I have great respect for Secretary Shinseki’s service to our nation and the sacrifices he has made, but the problems within the Department for which he is responsible cannot be ignored. It is time for a leadership change at the VA at the highest level.”

Replacing the captain of a sinking rust bucket still leaves you with a sinking rust bucket.

That OIG report does appear to show “systemic” problems with the VA. “Allegations at the Phoenix HCS health care system) include gross mismanagement of VA resources and criminal misconduct by VA senior hospital leadership, creating systemic patient safety issues and possible wrongful deaths,” concludes the executive summary.

“To date, we have ongoing or scheduled work at 42 VA medical facilities and have identified instances of manipulation of VA data that distort the legitimacy of reported waiting times,” the report also says. That’s up from the previously reported 26.

The VA is pure socialized medicine. No happen who you put in charge it will fail eventually, as it has done so over and over again between brief periods of improvement after one crisis or another.

Back in the 1980s the crisis was heart surgery. While investigating cardiac surgery deaths, it was found that there were “errors in operative technique” in 38 percent of cases.

In 2007, The Washington Post reported on shoddy treatment and conditions at Walter Reed Military Hospital. Though it is military and not VA, it too is socialized medicine on display. One story reported:

“While the hospital is a place of scrubbed-down order and daily miracles, with medical advances saving more soldiers than ever, the outpatients in the Other Walter Reed encounter a messy bureaucratic battlefield nearly as chaotic as the real battlefields they faced overseas.

“On the worst days, soldiers say they feel like they are living a chapter of ‘Catch-22.’ The wounded manage other wounded. Soldiers dealing with psychological disorders of their own have been put in charge of others at risk of suicide.”

In 1945 the head of the VA hospital system resigned after a series of news reports about shoddy treatment.

In 1986 the OIG found 93 VA physicians had sanctions against their medical licenses, including suspensions and revocations.

Today the problem in the Phoenix VA hospital is that 1,700 veterans were waiting for their first primary care appointment but were not on the electronic waiting list. The bureaucrats were cooking the books in order make themselves eligible for “awards and salary increases.”

The inspector reports:

“To review the new patient wait times for primary care in FY 2013, we reviewed a statistical sample of 226 Phoenix HCS (health care system) appointments. VA national data, which was reported by Phoenix HCS, showed these 226 veterans waited on average 24 days for their first primary care appointment and only 43 percent waited more than 14 days. However, our review showed these 226 veterans waited on average 115 days for their first primary care appointment with approximately 84 percent waiting more than 14 days. At this time, we believe that most of the waiting time discrepancies occurred because of delays between the veteran’s requested appointment date and the date the appointment was created. However, we found that in at least 25 percent of the 226 appointments reviewed, evidence, in veterans’ medical records, indicates that these veterans received some level of care in the Phoenix HCS, such as treatment in the emergency room, walk in clinics, or mental health clinics.”

It is time to dismantle the VA health care system and just give veterans vouchers to use wherever they wish.

 

Be careful what you ask for, Democrats, you just might get it

Poll from Investor’s Business Daily

New poll by Investor’s Business Daily shows that Democrats are not only delusional about the current state of affairs but they want to drive the nation toward the ultimate goal of socialism.

Fully 68 percent of Democrats say the government should provide health care for all Americans.

Veteran shows bruised wrists. (R-J photo)

How’s that working out for those in this country who already have government provided health care — our veterans?

A story in today’s Las Vegas Review-Journal reveals a litany of horror stories from those subjected to the socialized care in the VA medical system.

The stories range from the 78-year-old, blind woman who waited for hours in pain at the VA Medical Center in North Las Vegas to the 87-year-old World War II combat veteran who was handcuffed and arrested for daring to protest the shoddy treatment he received from the VA.

Of course, the VA non-spokesman can’t comment on anything so as to protest the privacy of VA victims, er, patients.

Meanwhile, back at IBD, a cancer patient who spoke out about his insurance policy being canceled because of ObamaCare is being audited by the IRS, as is the outspoken insurance broker who tried to help him.

So what does Obama do? He does the only thing he is good at: campaigning.