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Don't Privatize the VA
By Frank Toner
The following exchange appeared in the Queens Chronicle in July of 2018.
I am a Vietnam veteran who is concerned that the Veterans Affairs Mission Act, recently signed by President Trump, will lead to the destruction of the VA system, the system best suited to care for me and my fellow veterans.
The bill was sold as a way to help veterans get care from non-VA doctors. But in reality, it threatens the very existence of the VA and seems destined to lead to budget cuts for VA services, putting the VA on a path to cannibalize itself—which will hurt veterans and their families.
I was in the Army from 1968 to 1970 and served as a medic with an artillery group in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. After discharge, I eventually started a career in administration in New York City hospitals—so I know a thing or two about bureaucracy and waste in private healthcare. One day in my office, a person, who identified herself as Canadian, asked me how many people worked there. I said 36. She said that in Canada it would be about six. She pointed out Canada has a single-payer system and everyone has a card that just needs to be swiped, thereby eliminating the need for long information gathering and insurance verification.
In 2006, I decided it was a good idea to join the VA system. Once enrolled, the only identification I needed was my last name and the last four digits of my Social Security number. It was the same no matter which clinic or doctor I used. This kind of efficiency saves money, and makes accessing care easier.
Later I began to use the VA more frequently since I had hearing loss. I was thrilled to get my free hearing aids. Referrals were electronic and quick. The caregivers were friendly and respectful. I started talking to other veterans about their care. The praise was almost unanimous.
Now, the Mission Act is opening doors for conversion to a private care system. The president is going out of his way to gain more control and reduce transparency over how it will be funded and who decides which facilities are closed. No matter how Trump or Congress try to justify it—this Mission Act is a smokescreen for destroying and privatizing the VA.
It is clear Trump listens to those who have pushed VA privatization for years. I will continue to fight to strengthen the VA and its care for veterans. With a strong, well-funded VA, we can serve our vets who served our country.
It is up to us to voice our concerns to our members of Congress and senators.
Limit VA medical coverage
Re Frank Toner's July 12 letter, "Don't privatize the VA":
I disagree with Mr. Toner's objections to shifting medical treatment of veterans to non-VA facilities. Like him, I'm a Vietnam era veteran (Air Force, 1964-68) and am eligible for VA medical coverage. But I shouldn't be, and neither should thousands of other vets like me who have no military service-connected disabilities or medical conditions. That was the case when the US Veterans Administration was created in 1930 to treat World War I veterans. The VA grew during World War II, but care was still limited to vets with war-related conditions.
Coverage criteria expanded after the VA became a cabinet-level executive agency (the Department of Veterans Affairs) in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush. The VA instituted "Primary Universal Care" during a 1995-2000 "reform" program, allowing all honorably discharged veterans to get medical treatment, regardless of how their physical or mental conditions were caused. The VA is now the United States' largest healthcare provider, with 378,000 staffers treating nine million patients at over 1,000 facilities. That huge patient volume is one reason why vets face long delays for treatment.
Nearly half of all vets are 65 or older and should be covered by Medicare. But many prefer the VA to avoid deductibles, copays and the 20 percent of medical costs that Medicare won't cover. I'm not one of them. I see private physicians who are reimbursed by Medicare. I pay for my prescription drugs under Medicare Part D, even though I could get them free from the VA, because I don't honestly deserve the VA's largess. I'm glad Mr. Toner got free hearing aids, but did military service cause his hearing loss?
He marvels at the VA's efficiency, but federal investigations and news reports indicate that this agency is dysfunctional. President Obama's Veterans Affairs secretary caught heavy flak for comparing long waits for medical treatment to long lines at Disneyland. But that's a valid comparison. The VA is a Mickey Mouse outfit, its employees are goofy, they lie like Pinocchio, and when something doesn't work, they refuse to "Let It Go." To restore efficiency, the VA must return to its original mandate.
Kew Gardens Hills
Firefight over the VA
Posted: July 26, 2018
My letter printed in the July 12 edition of the Queens Chronicle provided my thoughts and reservations of the newly signed Mission Act and VA privatization ("Don't privatize the VA").
In the next week's edition of this paper a letter appeared from Mr. Richard Reif with a different point of view and some misleading statements ("Limit VA medical coverage").
First I want to answer his question, which quite frankly I don't know why he asked. He asked if my hearing loss was from military service. He asked the question after I stated I was with an artillery unit.
Did he want me to mention that for months in one fire support base a 105 mm howitzer was regularly firing rounds from on top of my bunker? Should I mention I was once whisked into a (bubble top) helicopter to go to replace an injured medic and I had no protective device to block out the noise?
I am glad Mr. Reif pays for his own healthcare. So do I. When I go to the VA they bill my insurance and charge me the appropriate copay. Mr. Reif's statement that veterans use the VA to avoid copays and coinsurance is misleading. If a veteran is poor he may avoid a copay but so would a poor civilian who is on Medicaid.
Why should the VA be for all veterans? I will give you my personal story. I was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease by my private doctor. If I had never been around veterans or part of the VA system, I may never have found out that Agent Orange is a cause of Parkinson's. Now I know I can receive treatment for a disease that was caused while I was in military service.
Lastly, Mr. Reif, yes, there are problems in the VA, just as there are in the private sector, and those deficiencies should be worked out. But our VA is far from a Mickey Mouse institution as you state, and it is despicable that you call the employees goofy and liars.
The writer is a veteran of the Vietnam War.
Frank Toner is a long-time member of VVAW. He was in the Army from 1968 to 1970 and served as a medic with an artillery group in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970.