Friday, March 16, 2007

No Free Lunch

NYT columnist Paul Krugman is one of my heroes, but there are several issues that flaw his treatment of the Department of Veterans Affairs in his commentary on the Walter Reed fiasco, "Valor and Squalor."

The official position is that the Clinton years were the golden era of veterans medical care. This assertion is wrong. I read all the fraternal veterans magazines, and their letters to the editor reveal a different and opposite experience for many veterans.

In addition, the Clinton administration enacted into law the right of the DVA to create categories of veterans, effectively eliminating hundreds of thousands of veterans from access to DVA veterans health care. Just ask wartime vets without disabilities or purple hearts if they can get VA care. In addition, vets with $27,790 annual income are not eligible for DVA care, even with wartime service in a combat zone.

Of course, the official line is that they are eligible, provided assets are available, which is a contingency that happens as often as pigs growing wings. Just visit a VA clinic outpatient clinic and talk with some vets, if you want the real scoop.

Krugman asserts that the administration has been charging veterans for many formerly free services, but this is not correct, as the services were never free in the first place.

The DVA is not welfare. The services were paid for up front by the veterans through their service. Neither the DVA nor the government gives anything to the veterans for free; we earned our benefits, and we continue to earn our compensation with pain that neither Clinton, nor his flight suit bedecked successor, ever felt.

What is actually happening is the Congress has authorized the DVA to increase co-pays and other enrollment fees, consequently saving the DVA money.

And note that the special eligibility factor of "recent combat service" effectively eliminates older veterans from the system in favor of the newly created vets from the Phony War on Terror.

The Bush administration is not the sole culprit--it is the Congress that allows and enacts the veterans issues into law. Recently it has been the Bush league Congress, but neither Carter, Reagan, Bush 41 nor Clinton did anything out of the ordinary to benefit veterans, either. If anyone thinks this statement false, please pony up with your proof.

The American voter loves to voice their support for the veterans, but in my life I've seen veterans consistently get screwed. Every voter and member of Congress is responsible. It is simplistic to lay this on GWB's doorstep. It would get lost among the pile of wrongs, anyway. The trend to give the short shrift to veterans began before young Bush avoided military service, and will continue after his administration is history.

As always, I respect Krugman's general analysis, but it is an outsider's view. For a look at how things really are, visit a site like Veterans for Justice or the Retired Military Advocate.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Preach it brother! Your suggestion for pundits and Congresspeople to get off their royal duffs and and actually prowl some VA hospitals/clinics is an excellent one. They need to make sure they don't announce they're coming so the local administration doesn't yell "FIRE!" to clear the waiting room. Just ask any vet or spouse sitting there and then LISTEN.

Yes, right on -- bring this crap right to Congress' door as that's where it belongs. Amen! And, if anyone remains unconvinced of Congress's *real* motives in dealing with any "defense" related money matter, it's an interesting exercise to check out what the money coming out of the Pentagon's O&M budget *really* goes to. Go ahead, it's in the public record. And the oink oink you will hear is bipartisan. They *all* agree on it and have for a long, long time. Too bad veterans be magically transformed into a mega-corporation that can deliver votes (even elections), provide freebies and employ lobbyists. Betcha then we wouldn't have a VA problem atall.

Friday, March 16, 2007 at 2:21:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Publius said...

I'm not sure I agree with you here. It hasn't escaped my notice that literally millions of Americans served in the armed forces during the Cold War and that many of them aren't the constituency the VA was designed to serve. Many spent two or three years serving in the U.S. or in Europe, for example, with the most grievous injury being perhaps an M-1 thumb. I don't know that's it fair to ask the taxpayers to pay for the old-age ailments of people who spent a brief time in the military and who then may have had successful and high-paying post-military careers.

VA is not supposed to be a welfare system. What you're suggesting—free care for any and all vets—would inevitably result in people with problems attributable to their military service being denied or being delayed in getting services to which they're entitled because of an overload of people for whom the greatest battles were in corporate settings.

IMO, what VA has done in categorizing veterans and in establishing means tests for those in the lowest priority groups—those with no medical issues attributable to military service—is entirely appropriate. I don't think the taxpayers should be paying the medical bills for those who've had successful civilian careers and who've got commensurate incomes and who also do not have medical issues associated with their military service.

An old friend with whom I served in Vietnam, but who got out without a scratch after three years and subsequently did very well as a corporate executive recently bitched to me about how VA wouldn't see him. I said, "Well, knock your income down below 27K and I'm sure they'll be more than happy to take you in. Otherwise, do what other Americans do, get your own." This guy, who did much better from a dollars-and-cents standpoint than me in life, said, "Point taken."

Two, three and four-year REMFs and reservists who never went to war or spent more than six months on active duty are already too much of a force in organizations such as the American Legion. Don't fall into their trap of trying to get yet another "freebie" in this gravy train known as America.

And, oh, by the way, I absolutely HATE the term "Vietnam-era veteran." You either is or you ain't. Era, my ass.

Friday, March 16, 2007 at 9:03:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


You gave me food for thought, so I checked the DVA manual.

Obviously, we don't need people--anyone--trying to shaft the system. But what the military continues to promise recruits is that they can have a reasonable presumption of access to VA health care for life, provided income guidelines are met.

Prior to this income guideline stipulation in 1998, all service people could presume access to VA health care. This was a promise made by America.

All Veterans are potentially eligible, provided they meet these income guidelines today. This regardless of whether or not they served in a theatre of operations during wartime.

From the DVA website (http://www.va.gov/healtheligibility/):
* Eligibility for most veterans’ health care benefits is based solely on active military service in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard (or Merchant Marines during WW II), and discharged under other than dishonorable conditions.
* Reservists and National Guard members who were called to active duty by a Federal Executive Order may qualify for VA health care benefits. Returning service members, including Reservists and National Guard members who served on active duty in a theater of combat operations have special eligibility for hospital care, medical services, and nursing home care for two years following discharge from active duty.
* Health Care eligibility is not just for those who served in combat.
* Other groups may be eligible for some health benefits.
* Veteran’s health care is not just for service-connected injuries or medical conditions.

Continuing the thinking:

Means testing for senators, Congressman, judges and other fatcats is not in the cards, yet we apply it to lowly soldiers.

Under SSA guidelines, unwed underage mothers get Medicaid and free drugs, and they've never served this country for a day.

Immigrants get free medical care. We provide medical care to Iraqis and Afghanis, so I think we can provide it to U.S. service people.

BTW, the "Vietnam Era Veteran" tag came from the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, and that term was coined by Congress and not the veterans themselves.

Friday, March 16, 2007 at 10:00:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Publius said...

Well, Ranger, I've learned something new. I did not realize the gravy train was so all-encompassing. I also don't recall having been promised VA care for life upon entry on active duty. I guess VA is a welfare system. I use Tricare these days because of a lack of VA facilities nearby, but I did use VA in California. Was pretty satisfied, too, BTW.

My father was 100% disabled from WW2 and was a VA guy for life; he died in a VA hospital. Got the VA check each month and my mother got the survivor check afterwards. They were very bureaucratic, but not bad on the whole. OTOH, five uncles who also went off to WW2, but didn't get majorly screwed up, did not use VA. They were all pretty successful and paid their own way for the rest of their lives.

Despite the promises, etc. (and we know all about government promises), I still think it makes sense to employ some sort of a triage system when deciding how to employ limited resources. There are way too many screwed up guys from our war and way too many young guys now from this latest adventure. I don't want to see any of them affected by services being given to well-off, healthy old guys who aren't (1) disabled; or (2) retired from the military. I was affected by it last year. Needed an ultrasound, but VA couldn't do it for six months. Went out and got it myself.

Oh, and I certainly do not agree with the SSA and immigrant care examples you provided. I am consistent. WRT medical care for Afghanis and Iraqis, well, one might say, particularly in the case of the Iraqis, that we as a nation have a little something to do with the plight many of them are in.

WRT to the fatcats, well, when was it ever different?

Keep on truckin'.

Saturday, March 17, 2007 at 10:47:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


Again, thanks for the considered input.

I see your point about the necessity of a triage system to disburse dwindling funds. Of course, you know our p.o.v.: we should never be in this dire situation to begin with, save for the elective phony War on Terror.

We should put our money where our mouths are, namely, nothing is too good for our fighting men and women.

Your point is well-taken, that individuals who are very well-off, and have medical plans through other means, should utilize those resources, vs. using a VA clinic.

My only beef is, for guys who need it, and who signed up or were drafted prior to the 1998 $27,000 cutoff, those guys were promised VA clinic access for life, w/o stipulation. So is it right to retract that promise retroactively? I don't think so.

Individual conscience should enter in here. For someone who is clearly capable of tending to their own medical needs through another employer's health plan or privately, it is up to that pre-1998 veteran to decide the correct choice.


Monday, March 19, 2007 at 9:36:00 PM GMT-5  

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