“This is the face of government health care. This is the fate of us all with universal health care.”

I’ve heard a number of pundits point to the VA as a model for the socialized health care system that they believe that we in this country so desperately need.  This scares the pants off me.  Now, to be fair, I’m certain that most anyone advocating universal health care probably also thinks “Eww. . . yucky” when the subject of our brave young men and women in the military comes up, so it’s not like they’ve actually ever spoken to someone who’s gone through VA health care. 

I’ve spent a good amount of time working in disabilty (private insurance and Social Security), so I’ve had the fine opportunity to wade through the medical records of disabled veterans, and it is not something that I would wish on my worst enemy.  Simon Jester has a description of his experiences, and they match the observations of what my claimants experienced to a tee:

I am a disabled veteran.  (And, no, the nature of my injuries is not open for discussion.) I served in Desert Storm. I spent the last three years of my enlistment undergoing physical therapy and taking drugs that would get me arrested if not prescribed by a Navy doctor.  I spent four years after being discharged under the care of the VA hospital in Birmingham, AL.  I never saw the same VA doc twice in a row.  It took months just to get a test scheduled, months more to get the results.  I actually lost a job once because I told my boss if I don’t go to B’ham next week it would take four months to get another appointment, and he told me I couldn’t have the day off.  During those four years, I was given experimental drugs by an intern who was doing a study and couldn’t get volunteers at a civilian hospital or a prison.  I was given a pain drug that was a THC derivative so powerful that I couldn’t function through the hallucinations.  The VA sent me powerful narcotics through the US mail that were stolen from my mailbox and not replaced.  The VA required me to use private insurance or cash to pay for some of my drugs, but thankfully none of my treatments.

And I never got any better.

Not until I went cold turkey on my meds (with the resulting psychotic episode) and saved enough to go to a private doctor and pay her cash instead.

The VA had no agenda here.  They weren’t deliberately trying to make my life miserable. They just didn’t care.  They are trying to handle a gigantic mass of patients, some of whom cannot be fixed without surgery that they don’t have the budget to perform.  They have to deal daily with patients who may not have finished high school, might be senile due to old age, could be drug addled or mind melted from illicit drugs or alcohol.  So they are forced by neccessity to treat every single one of their patients the exact same way.  They are forced to assume that anyone who comes through their doors is the lowest common denominator just to save themselves some precious time for the next 50 burned out old vets who come through the door today. We won’t even discuss the psychiatric problems some of these guys have and the dearth of programs to help.  (Hint to the VA: sometimes the problem you are treating is not in the body, but in the mind. The extra ten seconds you spend with your patient might tell you that.)

And the VA has to have rules like this just to get through the day.  They have to make sure that some of their more emotionally or psychically damaged patients are protected from the vultures who make up our American press corps.   But it seems like a man who can get up and address a public forum is probably capable enough to make his own decisions regarding talking to a reproter after the town hall.  It is simple math though; there is not enough time in the day to make rational and individual decisions regarding patients, so the VA, by default, has to stop anything that isn’t in their little rule book.

Now, think about the number of vets out there.  Now compare that to the number of American citizens that a true universal health care program would have to cover.  Sort of gives you sad face, huh?


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