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Offline rangerrebew

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30 May 2014 / 13 Comments

BY: Tony Lollio Via

I am a thirty four year old paralyzed veteran. I don’t write about it much because I try not to let it define me. As a blogger though, I suppose I am uniquely qualified to share my thoughts about the controversies surrounding the VA.

I have been assigned to the VA hospitals in Detroit and Ann Arbor. These are merely my observations and opinions.

US-DeptOfVeteransAffairsLogoI should start by saying how thankful I am for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Without them, my family would be in big trouble. I owe a debt of gratitude to American taxpayers for taking care of me, one of their disabled soldiers.

Am I frustrated with the shortcomings of VA care? Sure I am. I’m frustrated that I’ve waited over two months for a primary care appointment. I’m frustrated that I’ve been waiting over a year for modifications to make my home handicap accessible. It’s frustrating to be stuck here at home, because I’m still waiting for a chairlift for our van.

Of course I’m outraged to hear about veterans dying while they wait for care. Outraged, but not surprised. Should I blame President Obama? Only as much as I blame either George Bush, or Bill Clinton. Should I blame Secretary Shinseki, who lost a foot fighting in Vietnam and could be working a cushy job as a defense consultant or lobbyist?

You can play the blame game all day, but the problem has been going on far longer than whoever you happen to be pointing at. This is because the problem lies within the system itself.

The truth is that I’ve never expected the VA to run as well, or as efficiently, as private sector health care. I don’t believe any government bureaucracy can compare to its private sector equivalent; so it never surprised me to face long waiting lists and mountains of red tape.

There are many factors that play a role in the current state of the VA, but you can sum it up by saying they are overwhelmed. The VA’s recognition of Agent Orange poisoning and PTSD has something to do with this, combined with a generation of aging Vietnam veterans and thirteen years of perpetual war.

The corruption and lack of accountability that goes hand in hand with bloated federal bureaucracy also has something to do with this.

Somehow, the truth about veterans health care facilities around the country is not reaching the appropriate ears in Washington. This seems to be the eventuality of most big government programs, becoming so centralized that they disconnect from the very people they are trying to help. This is why Washington, DC is so out of touch with most of America.

And so I do circles in my wheelchair around the crabapple tree in my front yard, wondering if there is a better way.

About a year ago, I had a bad fall and my wife called an ambulance. The EMT asked me which hospital I wanted, and I told him to take me to VA Ann Arbor. He refused, and said it would be a better idea to take me to the University of Michigan. Six months later I had a bout with kidney stones. My wife took me to the ER at VA Ann Arbor. I was told by the staff that if I ever had a “real” emergency, I should probably head straight to U of M.

Like most of the staff at the VA, my primary care physician is a good man. He’s a great doctor, and completely overwhelmed. He spends most of his hours working at -you guessed it- University of Michigan Hospital. He wears a U of M lab coat, like most of the doctors at VA Ann Arbor.

So there are two hospitals, literally five minutes from each other. Many of the same doctors staff both of them, and yet one is far superior to the other. Both hospitals are modern and clean. Both are staffed by competent professionals. One, however, is managed by the federal government and packed daily with sick soldiers waiting for care.

shutterstock_105887894It makes me wonder why I’m here. I wonder if it makes sense for the government to be spending billions building and renovating hospitals, when there is better care available three miles away. I wonder if all the money spent on veteran health care would be better spent in the marketplace, where healthcare providers competed for the dollars that taxpayers have been kind enough to grant veterans like me.

If that money were placed into a health savings account, or given as a healthcare voucher, I wonder if I could actually save the taxpayers money by shopping for my own healthcare. Maybe we could both benefit from this type of arrangement.

Perhaps I could see a doctor close to my home, instead of waiting months to see one thirty miles away. Maybe I could find a cheaper, faster MRI at one of the many clinics I pass along the way.

If compliance with the Affordable Care Act is pulling our free market healthcare system to the left through federal regulation and subsidies, then it could, by contrast, pull the single payer VA system to the right, by giving the private sector a chance at my federal healthcare dollars.

In other words, if Obamacare is good enough to potentially cover all Americans, why can’t our veterans even be allowed on the exchanges? At least then veterans may have a snowball’s chance at seeing a local doctor.

Instead, we veterans are stuck in a single payer system, where elderly and disabled soldiers endure outrageous waiting lists and long travel distances–often for substandard care. Bureaucrats and crooked administrators fudge the numbers and cook the books, to perpetuate the lie that our federal government can efficiently manage the healthcare of even two percent of the population.

One thing seems very clear to me: We’re not doing our disabled veterans justice by funneling them into a separate, federally controlled healthcare system. These problems have persisted for decades, through Democrat and Republican administrations.

If even with the best intentions, big government is incapable of adequately taking care of this subset of the American population; my fear is that the whole country is moving closer to a healthcare system that will look a lot like the VA.

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. Abraham Lincoln

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