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VA Scandal Suggests Veterans' Medical Care Needs Total Overhaul

by on May 19, 2014 6:30 AM

In another episode of "Big Government: the bad and the ugly" we recently learned of alleged corruption in the Veterans Administration system.

It appears that veterans with serious medical issues were either denied or delayed in getting much-needed medical treatment at several treatment centers across the United States.

As we saw with the recent IRS scandal, documents and memos have been uncovered that once again show government employees, whose salaries are paid by our tax dollars, were making conscious decisions to either approve or deny services for which individuals were qualified to receive. This time the purported reason was to make the VA's records look better.

While the IRS scandal may have inconvenienced and politicized groups who were requesting tax-exempt status, the corruption in the VA is alleged to have possibly caused either the death(s) or acceleration of the physical decline of our veterans.

Seriously. What is wrong with people? More importantly, what is wrong with a government system in which the quest for power and bonuses results in fellow citizens being treated so horribly?

I find myself fantasizing about putting the names of anyone implicated in this scandal on a "list" so that when they or their family members eventually need medical care or treatment, they would be denied or delayed and have to experience the same frustration, anger, fear and pain that they caused for others.

(If one of my kids was suggesting the "eye for an eye" response, this would be the time that I would say to that doing so only brings you down to their level.)

It's time like these that make me question my faith in humanity. A man or woman who was either drafted into service or volunteered to serve our country – those who serve to protect us – should be moved to first in line for our services. Those who would somehow benefit from delaying or denying those services are the lowest of the low.

It reminds me of the story of Clay Hunt, a Marine who was injured in Afghanistan. After watching several of his best friends killed right before his eyes and not being able to assist, Clay was injured and eventually separated from the service. Survivor guilt, depression and anxiety, the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress and difficulties transitioning back to civilian life became the realities of his life back home.

Attempts to seek counseling, delays in being able to be seen in the VA system and the subsequent debt and financial devastation only compounded his mental health issues. His family and friends eventually shared Clay's story on CBS' "60 Minutes" after he took his own life at age 27.

With the billions of dollars and gazillions of person hours creating, debating, rehashing and revising the Affordable Care Act, what have we been doing to take care of our veterans?

"We can't afford it" should not ever be a reason when it comes to anything to do with the military but especially for our veterans and their families. If the folks who run Washington need some help, I'm happy to look over the budget and point out programs that are either too big, no longer work or that don't work. Programs to assist our veterans should not be listed among those.

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, there are currently 8.92 million veterans enrolled in the VA Health Care system. In 2013, there were 6.48 million unique (different veterans) who were treated within the system.

With an aging veteran population (including World War II, Korea, Desert Storm and Viet Nam) the need for services is significant – without even considering the needs of those service men and women who are experiencing devastating physical, psychological and emotional injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. The top reason that our veterans are seeking service are more similar to the general aging population – cardiac issues, hearing loss and cancer – than to what popular culture has called the Wounded Warrior.

A system that is over-stressed, over-worked and under-funded is not conducive to effective treatment. A system that is so big and without appropriate oversight that it allows men and women (who have sacrificed so much) to be "sacrificed" in the service of bureaucracy needs a total overhaul.

A close friend of mine was wounded in Viet Nam. His surgery "in country" and afterwards resulted in a life-long disability that caused almost constant pain. "Why isn't our government helping you?" I asked. The system was so cumbersome and the paperwork so ridiculous that for many years he just lived with it. Eventually, using his own resources and a non-VA health care provider, he was able to get the much-needed corrective surgery and, at almost 70, could look forward to a life without pain.

A system that is so broken needs to be fixed – before others see their quality of life compromised -- or lose their fight altogether.

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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