It’s time to end the decades-long sabotage of veterans healthcare

It’s time to end the decades-long sabotage of veterans healthcare
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In January I received a frantic call from Crownover, a man I hadn’t seen in the decade since we had served together in the Army’s Third Infantry Division. He was calling to let me know that our battle-buddy, Moore, was in the ICU of a civilian hospital on the border of West Virginia and Ohio for kidney failure.

Why was a veteran in a non-Veterans Affairs hospital?

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When Moore’s family contacted the Chillicothe VA Medical Center, they were told they didn’t have a space in their inpatient ward for him, so he was stuck in a holding pattern.

 

While those pushing for VA privatization would quickly blame VA for this, the fact is that this lack of space was a result of a failure over the course of decades for congressional investment in VA’s system to prepare for today’s demands.

Too few of our tax-dollars were designated toward building the physical infrastructure and hiring the manpower that would be able to provide the resources required to treat today’s veterans.

Some of the needs of VA were obvious, such as the surge in demand caused by my generation coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with Vietnam-era veterans’ needs increasing with age. But add unexpected strains such as the increase in drug-related incidents in rural and depressed areas, this lack of congressional investment led to the disaster scenarios that keep making the news.

All of those factors combined, the Chillicothe VA, which was part of a system sabotaged and starved for resources, simply didn’t have a bed to put him in for a while.

While we were on the phone, Crownover told me Moore had been delirious, and without sedating him into a coma-like trance, the doctors there were worried about what might happen. Moore may have sacrificed his hand and a few pounds of flesh in Iraq, but the civilian doctors still saw this veteran as a “threat to be mitigated” first, and as a “patient to be treated” second.

Their threat-mitigation and treatment plan? Pump a veteran who was brought to the hospital experiencing kidney failure with a cocktail of drugs — day, after day.

I knew right away we needed to get Moore into the VA as quickly as possible, so I got onto the next available flight.

It’s experiences like these that make efforts to undermine the VA so profoundly infuriating. When we saw headlines about the proposing of a bill to sabotage the VA — charging veterans for the care they earned and further denying the system designed for veterans of necessary investments — it wasn’t just clearly bad-policy, it was personally insulting to veteran advocates.

The bill author’s staff had apparently failed to consult any congressionally-chartered or membership-based veterans service organizations, and instead opted to take orders on how to send veteran health care dollars into a new entity called “The Corporation.” These lobbyists funded by dark money aren’t focused on veterans’ health care, only on the reduction in the taxes necessary to fulfill the VA’s promise to care for we “who have borne the battle.”

I slept on the floor of a civilian hospital next to Moore for a week, and every day was like groundhog day.

Moore’s experience was a constant, life-threatening scenario, which was re-traumatizing not only to him, but to those of us who watched helplessly by his bedside. His severe memory loss and mental instability due to traumatic brain injury and and post-traumatic stress disorder made this hospital hell for him. When he was at his worst, these civilian doctors and nurses would crowd by the door to watch — looking at him like an animal in a cage — further triggering his PTSD and perpetuating his downward spiral.

Once a bed finally opened up, we were able to get Moore to the Chillicothe VA; where thanks to their familiarity with veterans such as him, the VA doctors quickly stabilized him.

The difference in quality of care couldn't have been more profound.

Every day in the civilian hospital, I was worried their providers were — through ignorance and fear — pushing him closer to death. From the moment we walked into the Chillicothe VA, Randy immediately started improving in his recovery.

Veterans freely acknowledge VA has problems, but we overwhelmingly prefer to get our care at VA because it’s a system designed to serve us. Any proposal regarding reform of veteran's health care that fails to invest in improving and expanding capacity of facilities run by the Veterans Health Administration ought to be strongly rejected in a bipartisan effort to ensure that our nation keeps its promise to all veterans.

The VA saved my life years ago and pulled me out of the dark cloud that I was stuck in after my return from Iraq.

I watched the VA save Moore after the private sector failed him, as it has for countless other veterans. Members of Congress on the partisan fringes better not try to take this comprehensive, life-saving system away from us and use slick marketing to try to say you’re giving us a “choice,” when it’s really just a choice to see anybody but the VA.

It’s time to end the decades-long sabotage of veterans health care, where under-investment by Congress creates deadly problems to be politically exploited for partisan gains. Keep the crazy ideas at the fringes where they belong, and start listening to veterans groups with actual members. Invest in the VA we need for today and tomorrow’s veterans.

Kristofer Goldsmith is an Iraq Veteran, the founder of High Ground Veterans Advocacy, and assistant director for Policy and Government Affairs at Vietnam Veterans of America.