Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, in a commentary on this page headlined “A Government-Run Health System? Ask Vets What They Think,” criticized the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health system.
Well, a survey of five million veterans gave the VA health service a rating of 85 approval, compared to private sector patients’ rating of 79 for their care.
Hegseth claims the VA “delivers substandard care.” But according to, among others, the New England Journal of Medicine and the RAND Corporation, the VA comes out on top of virtually every study of health care providers ranking quality, safety, efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Hegseth is an Army veteran. He’s also a conservative activist, so his commentary is not as objective as he would have you believe and was essentially a back-door attack on Obamacare. But they’re totally different platforms, and any comparison is disingenuous.
He accurately points out that hundreds of thousands of vets are waiting much too long to have their long-term disability claims processed, but leaves the impression their medical care is on hold. It’s not. They’re being treated every day. Then he attributes veterans’ high suicide rate to the fact it may take up to two weeks for routine — his word — mental health checkups, ignoring that every phone call to the VA starts with a referral to its crisis hotline for those contemplating harming themselves.
The VA is dealing with the aftermath of 12 years of war in which not only were the wars not thought through, but the collateral repercussions not attended to either. We’re still dealing with the budget deficits of fighting two unfunded wars and thousands of returning service men and women homeless and jobless because no one bothered to plan what to do about them back in 2003.
Likewise, we’re bearing the results of a VA health system that wasn’t expanded and fully funded until five years ago to cope with the new battlefield reality of multiple deployments — resulting in greater numbers of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. Furthermore, severely wounded amputees and the brain- injured, instead of dying, are thankfully now being saved — but requiring massive healthcare intervention.
Elsewhere, video showing thousands of backlogged disability claims stacked in boxes is misleading. Actually, the VA has an excellent electronic record-keeping system that virtually eliminates surgical and prescription-dispensing errors, and provides instant patient data for evaluation, charting, treatment, tracking and follow-up. What you’re seeing are the paper medical records of discharged service personnel sent over by the Department of Defense because it never bothered to integrate its IT system with the smaller VA when it had the chance.
Any one vet not receiving adequate care is one too many, but there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Full disclosure: I receive my primary care at VA Outpatient Clinic New Port Richey. I’ve also spent time in VA hospitals and emergency rooms in Iowa, Buffalo, Fort Myers, Tampa and St. Petersburg. My care has always been first rate.
Marty Moore is a freelance writer living in Port Richey.