Des Moines Register. Nov. 26, 2019
Best way for presidential candidates to help veterans? Abolish, not grow VA health care system
U.S. Sen Bernie Sanders is passionate about ensuring all Americans have health insurance. The Democratic presidential candidate is right to support offering Medicare to everyone, which makes fiscal and moral sense.
Sanders is also passionate about honoring this country’s veterans. But he is wrong about preserving and fortifying the Veterans Administration health care system.
During a recent visit to Iowa, Sanders released a plan that includes immediately filling nearly 50,000 vacancies within the VA, spending $62 billion (yes, billion with a b) to repair and update infrastructure in VA facilities and loosening regulations that qualify veterans for VA care.
These are not good ideas.
To really improve veterans’ access to a wide range of care, Congress should abolish the VA system, give veterans health insurance to visit any provider or hospital they choose and invest the money saved in the health care infrastructure all of us rely on.
The VA operates about 1,300 hospitals, nursing homes and clinics nationwide. Many veterans do not live near a facility, which forces them to drive long distances. Though Congress has expanded the ability for veterans to more easily get care in the private sector, that has created additional bureaucracy, red tape and expenses.
With a health insurance card in hand, veterans could visit health providers, hospitals and emergency rooms near where they live. They could have the same family physician as their spouses. They could go to any counselor, pharmacy or physical therapist they choose. They wouldn't have to drive in a snowstorm from rural Iowa to a VA hospital in Des Moines.
The VA system, which serves about 9 million people, also doesn't make sense for the roughly 320 million nonveteran Americans who cannot access its facilities and expertise.
You may live right down the street from a VA hospital. Your taxes fund it. It may provide excellent care. But you’re likely among the 97 percent of Americans who can’t use it.
Sanders also wants to beef up the workforce at the VA, which already employs nearly 15,000 doctors and 61,000 nurses. That is easier said than done. Where would those workers come from? Thousands of new professionals are not going to miraculously appear out of thin air.
The federal government will invariably siphon many of them from the private sector, where they are already in short supply. When surgeons, psychiatrists, nurses and social workers become government employees with the VA, they abandon the private health care system the rest of us rely on.
In addition, Sanders wants to expand health insurance access to members of the National Guard and provide veterans with dental care — an important and often overlooked part of health care.
But it does not make sense to run a parallel health care system and use billions of taxpayer dollars to maintain aging facilities and pay health professionals available to only a small segment of the population.
Advocates for VA health care say it can better develop expertise in areas such as PTSD, brain injuries and amputations and deliver care tailored to veterans' needs. But dollars saved by eliminating the VA health care system could go to helping the private sector develop specialized services for veterans.
Sanders certainly has good intentions: “We may argue in a democracy about the wisdom of this war or that war, but I hope there is no disagreement that the men and women who put their lives on the line doing their duty defending our country deserve the best quality care we can provide them,” he told Iowans.
They do deserve the best care. And much of it exists in hospitals, universities, the Mayo Clinic and numerous facilities throughout the private sector. With government-funded health insurance, veterans could access all of it.
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Stop trying to dismantle Obamacare
Before the Affordable Care Act was implemented, researchers found that about one in 10 nonelderly veterans did not have health insurance or had not used care available from the Veterans Administration.
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Obamacare was expected to dramatically help veterans because it expanded Medicaid, thus covering more low-income people, and provided subsidies to help pay for private health insurance.
It appears the law did exactly that.
From 2013 to 2015, the uninsured rate for veterans fell by an estimated 42%. Over this time, veterans also experienced fewer unmet health needs, suggesting that increased coverage translated into improved access to care, according to an Urban Institute study.
Politicians who want to help veterans should recognize how the ACA has provided health insurance. So should Republican governors who still refuse to expand Medicaid in their states.
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Nov. 26, 2019
Find mental health funds
It was a statement of the obvious, but necessary, when the Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution asking Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Legislature to further address Iowa’s worst-in-the-nation mental health care system.
The catalyst was the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommending $72,700 in fines against the Iowa Department of Human Services. Investigators found low staffing and other issues created unsafe working conditions at the Mental Health Institute in Independence where employees were assaulted and injured by combative patients.
Fort Dodge Messenger. Nov. 27, 2019
It’s time to protect our veterans
America’s veterans have contributed greatly to our nation’s success. Their service – and in many cases exceptional sacrifices – are a source of pride to all right-thinking citizens. It’s hard to believe that as aging veterans seek to avail themselves of the government benefits, earned through their patriotic endeavors, some unscrupulous individuals and companies seek to exploit their vulnerability.
Unfortunately, a new report from the federal Government Accountability Office, usually referred to simply as the GAO, reveals a disgusting scandal. The GAO concludes that as many as 200 companies are charging veterans excessive fees for assistance in helping them secure essential benefits to which their service entitles them. All too often, entities not properly accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs are taking advantage of the need aging veterans have for assistance to impose unreasonable and unmerited fees for that help.
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst is demanding government action to protect these American heroes. She is urging her colleagues in Congress to quickly pass the Financial Refuge for Every Elderly (FREE) Veteran Act.
“Veterans in Iowa and across the country are owed the benefits they’ve earned in service to our country, and anyone attempting to take advantage of these heroes for financial gain should not only be ashamed of themselves but face serious consequences,” Ernst said. “This bill will protect our veterans from these ‘pension poachers,’ assist those veterans who have fallen prey, and ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely at the VA.”
The Iowa Republican also chastised her fellow lawmakers for failing to address this problem sooner.
“There’s simply no excuse for that and I hope my colleagues will take action now,” Ernst said.
The Messenger strongly agrees. This legislation needs prompt approval.
The proposed legislation would provide education to veterans about these unsavory scams to alert them to the danger. It also establishes severe penalties for individuals or companies found guilty of exploiting veterans. Those offenders would be subject to major fines and possible imprisonment.
Ernst, herself a combat veteran, has become an important champion of the U.S. military and of those heroes who have worn or nation’s uniforms. Her tireless efforts on behalf of veterans help make sure that others in Congress don’t overlook the importance of government action to aid veterans. She also is determined to protect veterans from charlatans who would exploit their vulnerabilities as they grow older. We commend Ernst for her important work on behalf of these American patriots.
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