Open letter to Sloan Gibson, interim head of Department of Veterans Affairs:
Following evidence of incompetence and failures in your agency, and calls for the President to fire him, Gen. Shinseki has tendered his resignation as secretary of Veterans Affairs. As his successor you are now faced with getting that agency back on track and ridding it of those in its ranks who were cooking the books to make things seem better than they really are. That will be a difficult job because the numbers of veterans you have to deal with has risen massively in recent years and there are simply not enough places and VA personnel to deal with them all.
This problem did not emerge overnight and will not be fixed merely by a change of personnel at the top but you are in a good position to take a completely fresh look at the way we handle Veterans Affairs. The old way has not been working and is clearly not the most efficient and appropriate system for ensuring that our veterans get the very best treatment in a timely fashion. I hope you are even asking why we need a Department of Veterans Affairs? What government department, other than defense, has a completely different department existing just to handle its retirees? What business does that? It seems so arcane.
By allowing the Department of Defense off the hook when it comes to dealing with veterans we absolve them of any financial responsibility for the long term effects of the wars they go into. We allow them to budget for war but not for the effects of war. We allow them to have no real financial responsibility for their actions, and allow their budgets to cover but a small part of the overall cost of warfare. The American people are thus deceived as to the true cost of conflict because the defense budget does not include the ongoing cost to the nation of its veterans.
Then we have the matter of veterans being unable to get the treatment they deserve in a timely manner and at a facility that is close by. The way things are currently arranged, veterans often have to travel hundreds of miles to a VA facility, and those facilities are often not equipped with the state of the art equipment and the specialists that are needed. Would it not be more efficient to enable veterans to just go for treatment to whichever medical facility had the best and most appropriate equipment and specialists to deal with their issues? This could easily be done by having veterans cleared for treatment using just their SSN and Service Number, with payment coming directly to the facility from the Department of Defense branch dealing with Veterans. It would save money, save time, reduce wait lists, ensure that medical facilities all around the country had an awareness of veterans issues. It would also enable the government to sell all those VA hospitals to private healthcare businesses and eliminate a complete government department. The financial savings would be enormous and response times and care would soon be much improved, particularly in rural areas.
Of course this suggestion will be rejected by those senators and congressmen who cannot, for political reasons, be seen to be doing anything that might seem unpatriotic, such as messing with the Department of Veterans Affairs. It does though have a certain attraction to Republicans, in that they can rightly claim to be significantly reducing the size of government. It should also be attractive to Democrats in that this could be seen as another road that would eventually lead to a single payer health system in the US. The healthcare industry should also love it because it would put an additional 15 million to 20 million or so patients into their facilities overnight. It is far too sensible a plan to be embraced by Washington, but you never know till you try; that is if you are willing to do away with your own job?
Nicholas T. Fickling