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VA disaster gives chilling glimpse of government-run health care

The Augusta Chronicle It doesn’t care who you are or what you have or what you’ve done in life ‘“ you’re just a number. Emotionless detachment is a hallmark of most governments and governmental entities but it has absolutely no place in our nation’s Veterans Administration hospitals. The men and women who selflessly risked life and limb defending our freedoms deserve more than numerical status. Deplorably, some VA employees and administrators have shown these heroes nothing more than nonchalant indifference and gross incompetence at their greatest time of need. The results have been fatal. At least 63 veterans have died at VA facilities nationwide because of appointment delays, manipulated wait times and other bureaucratic hokum. That’s just the number of preventable deaths that have been confirmed to date. Where the number ends is anyone’s guess as this scandal seems to grow wider, deeper and more shameful every day. Currently, the probe is focused on more than two dozen VA facilities. Augusta’s Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center isn’t one, though it has faced previous inquiry because of three veteran deaths attributed to excessive delays in receiving gastrointestinal care. Nationally, the allegations are stomach-churning: ‘Secret’ waiting lists to conceal patient-care delays. The destruction of medical records. Bonuses for VA employees and administrators at facilities where preventable deaths have occurred. Coaching staff members on delaying procedures without raising suspicions. ’Yes, it is gaming the system a bit, but you have to know the rules of the game you’re playing,’ says a leaked email from a VA telehealth coordinator in Cheyenne, Wyo., who instructed staff members to falsify records to make it appear no patient waited longer than 14 days for an appointment. ’When we exceed the 14-day measure,’ the email continues. ‘The front office gets very upset, which doesn’t help us.’ Playing with statistics instead of providing real services. Characterizing life-and-death health care decisions as a game. Knowingly and dispassionately allowing veterans to die on waiting lists. Does this sound like an agency that cares about veterans? Bear in mind VA health care is 100% governmentrun with a budget second only to the Department of Defense. If this is how ‘socialized medicine’ cares for a supposedly revered population, what could the average citizen expect under the nationalized, single-payer system liberals fantasize about ‘“ and which we seem headed toward? The VA’s number of backlogged cases ‘“ those which have gone more than 125 days without being processed ‘“ reached an all-time high of 600,000 last year. The VA puts the current figure at about 340,000 though no one can be sure considering the VA’s 9% error rate for claims processing. If you want to contest a VA error, you can expect to spend an average of 1,598 days waiting for the appeal to meander through the administrative process based on VA figures from 2013. Apologists say the VA is under-resourced. It isn’t. The VA’s budget tripled between 2000 and 2013 as America’s veteran population declined 4.3 million during the same period. VA health expenditures increased 193% during those years while its patient load increased by 68%. No, the VA doesn’t lack for money. Nor does it lack for compassionate and competent employees and administrators. It appears completely lacking in oversight and accountability for those few who would soil the agency’s reputation and step over the bodies of veterans to cut a few bureaucratic corners. Calls for the removal of Veterans Affairs secretary Eric Shinseki have gone unheeded. The recent resignation of Dr. Robert Petzel, the VA’s undersecretary of health, is cold comfort, considering he already had plans to retire this year. That prompts the question of how long will it take before someone is held accountable for what U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, calls a ‘cultural problem’ of trying to make the VA ‘look good without it being good.’ Watchdog groups have targeted VA dysfunction for years. How agonizing that it’s taken a body count for Washington to notice. President Kennedy famously said, ‘You’ll know the character of a nation by the way it treats its veterans.’ If he was correct, then right now this nation’s character is at an all-time low.

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