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The Big Picture on Veterans' Health Care
By Bruce E. Parry
We all know veterans have been promised health care by the military. We all know that the VA is closing down hospitals, programs and beds. We know that veterans are being charged more and more at every turn. We all know that the VA hospital system is understaffed, overworked and underpaid.
The questions that face us are the questions of what we do about it. I don't mean, "Are we going to have this demonstration, or that campaign?" "Are you going to get active?" or "Why are veterans so apathetic?" I mean rather, "What is our vision?" "How are we going to reverse the situation we face?" "How are we actually going to get the VA to not only stop closing down hospitals and programs, but to start opening new ones?" and "How are we going to get them to increase funding, increase service, reduce and eliminate costs to veterans and give them better health care?"
These are not trivial questions. Do we think that if we have enough demonstrations, the VA will relent? Do we think that if we send enough postcards, letters, emails and faxes, the secretary of Veterans Affairs will finally see the light? Do we think that if we only elect the right people that the proper bill will come out of the Congress and be signed by the president? We may have to do all these things, but they are not going to solve the problem.
Here is why. The problem is not just the VA. Over the last 20 years, health care in this country has been cut back for all populations. The implementation of HMOs and "managed care" has meant both restricted service and rising health care and insurance bills across the country. At the same time, the Public Health Service has been severely cut back. In fact, all public hospitals have been cut back. A look around any major city will show that almost all hospitals are private and the few public hospitals remaining (like Chicago's Cook County Hospital) are woefully inadequate to handle the huge — and growing — population they have to serve.
Health care is big business. Private hospitals are in business to make money. So are the businesses that supply hospitals. So are the drug companies and the insurance companies.
The health care system in this country is not set up to answer the questions "How can we provide health care?" or "How can we provide the best health care to the most people?" It is set up to answer: "How can we make money by providing health care?" That is quite a different question.
They do not make it by working. The workers all go to work and do the best they can to do their jobs and get the wages and salaries.
Companies make it by making profits. And profits are made by getting others to do the work and supply the health care essentials for less than the company gets paid. That leads to cutting costs. It leads to only providing services that are profitable.
How does the private sector affect the VA and other public sector health care services?
Taxes are costs. You cut the cost of labor by cutting wages and laying people off. You cut taxes by lobbying Congress and the president to cut programs. Public health care programs, including the VA, have been cut severely by both Democrats and Republicans.
What's the point? The point is that in order to win, veterans are going to have to start linking up with the "civilians" fighting for health care. There are over 40 million people without any health care in this country, and the number is growing. The veterans in that group naturally wind up in the VA system. That is a natural link between our fight and the broader fight for health care.
Another link is that we were actually promised something. Getting the government to provide what it promised would be a great victory for everyone. Plus, the VA is the backbone of the national health care system that would be activated in case of disaster or emergency. Everyone should be interested in that.
Demonstrations, postcards and letters are fine, but they are not going to win in the final analysis. We need to carefully look to forge a local and national movement that will get where we need to go.
Bruce E. Parry acts as secretary of Veterans for Unification, a grassroots organization formed in 1998 with the mission to save the VA hospital system and restore quality care and benefits for all veterans. You can reach VU at 773-569-1000 or VeteransForUnification@yahoo.com Bruce is also a member of VVAW.