Election Section

Privatizing VA Medical Care: Another Tea Party attack against blacks, Latinos and poor whites

By Jean Damu
Wednesday October 13, 2010 - 09:51:00 AM

The Republican Party and the Tea Party Express are on a roll, if the pundits and pollsters are to be believed.They say the opportunity will exist after the mid-term elections for them to be in a position to undo some of the positive legislation passed by Democratically controlled congresses. At the top of their hit list- undo the healthcare reforms and privatize social security, as well as the VA hospitals. 

Why should anyone besides veterans care about privatizing the VA? 

Everyone should care because VA hospitals arguably are not only the nation’s best providers of healthcare, but also because the VA hospitals are the best argument for a nationalized healthcare system.Many seem either not to know this or not to care. 

This begs the questions: Are some Democrats, progressives and members of the left so contemptuous of anything having to do with the military they are willing to sacrifice the best argument for nationalized health care in the US rather than admit the VA medical care system is, as some say, among the best in the US? Do Democrats agree with the Tea Partiers that government is so dysfunctional it can’t do anything right?For example, Michael Moore, in his wonderful 2007 agi/prop film, Sicko, an astonishing expose of the US medical system and its pimp, the insurance industry, visited Canada, Great Britain, Cuba and other countries exposing what he thought were far better healthcare systems than our own.Then in a real head scratcher Moore informs us, “There is actually one place on American soil that has free universal health care.”
Moore, ever the showman, takes several 9-11 responders, who were then suffering debilitating health problems due to their long exposure to toxic conditions at the bombing site, offshore to the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba. From a small outboard with bullhorn in hand, Moore demands naval authorities provide his friends the same excellent healthcare provided the “evildoers,” imprisoned there. 

But why didn’t Moore simply walk across the street in any large US city to examine any VA hospital? Veterans who choose to participate receive free universal healthcare in virtually every large city in the US. Currently there are about 1400 VA medical centers in the US. 

Rather than honestly examining the VA system, Republicans and Tea Partiers are falling over themselves joining the movement to decry any shift toward socialized medicine. 

African American Republican senatorial candidate from South Carolina, Tim Scott, thinks the VA hospitals should go under the knife. Ken Buck, the Republican Party and Tea Party Movement’s candidate for Senator in Colorado recently added his voice to those of John McCain, Republican Senate candidate in Alaska Joe Miller, Delaware’s reformed witch practitioner Kathleen O’Donnell and numerous others from that sector of the political class who think the VA medical care system should be privatized.This, they say, will down size big government.Just days ago Arizona Tea Party/Republican candidate Sharron Angle says she no longer supports the privatization movement. 

However Scott reasons, correctly we have to admit, government involvement in healthcare is a step toward socialism and he wants nothing to do with that. Never mind that the VA hospitals are among the nation’s best. 

Curiously, very few who normally oppose and ridicule the deep thinkers of the Tea Party Movement, have taken the time to address this issue. When Sarah Palin falsely and demagogically raised the false specter of death panels in regards to pending health care reforms no one pointed the VA and asked her, “Where are death panels?”Almost anyone who has come in extensive contact with the VA medical care system will tell you that despite what Hollywood and the media would have us believe, it is a successful and valuable model for health care delivery in the US and a worthy argument for nationalizing the nation’s medical care systems. However, in addition to the system’s socialistic character Tea Partiers and increasing numbers of Republicans are attacking the VA system because blacks, minorities and poor whites make up the bulk of the clients. 

Apparently they think the VA clients are voiceless and will not fight back. In a moment we will see this is not necessarily the case. 

This raises another question. Do Tea Partiers think veterans don’t like their hospitals? 

Apparently, and judging by their silence, everyone else on the other side of the political spectrum, Democrats and progressives, also think this is case.In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. 

In a 2003 study the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine found that VA hospital patients, more than private hospital patients, “are more likely to be in poor health, to have a low level of education, disability, or low income; to be black; and to have higher rates of psychiatric illness. These characteristics are associated with receiving poorer quality care.” 

But instead of receiving poor medical care the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that by every criterion VA hospitals are outperforming private hospitals.The characteristics of the VA healthcare population, poor, under-educated, black and Latino, exposes the Tea party movements’ goal of privatizing the VA as being not only racist but in addition is also part and parcel of the of the insurance industry agenda. 

Passionate defense of VA medical centers has not always existed.In the early 1970’s with the return home of large numbers of Viet Nam veterans VA delivery programs were so outmoded, understaffed and negligent numerous incidents across the nation played out with veterans carrying guns into the VA offices demanding better, more attentive treatment. If lives were not lost in the spontaneous outrage, lives were threatened on both sides of the VA desks. 

A generation ago the VA was a national embarrassment and disgrace.No longer.Over the years as a result of congressional bi-partisan embarrassment and bi-partisan agreement (an agreement that existed until approximately 2008 when John McCain suggested it would be cheaper to provide medical vouchers to veterans and to close the hospitals) VA hospitals have transformed themselves into the only known federal institutions in which their constituents almost universally would say, “The government cares about me. “ 

For instance, years ago the VA system computerized their records systems. This allows any veteran enrolled in the system to walk into any one of the VA’s 1400 medical facilities and have his entire medical history available to the on site personnel. This is important because doctors can avoid ordering repeat MRI’s or other unnecessary tests. 

Currently congress is considering allocating $2 billion in order for the nation’s other hospitals to computerize their records systems. But the system isn’t just a warehouse to store patient data. More important it has safeguards to improve quality care. The system warns providers, for example, if a patients’ blood pressure goes beyond a targeted level, or if he or she is due for a flu shot or cancer screening. 

Ashish Jha, associate professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health and a staff physician at the VA hospital in Boston says that as a result of these and other changes made at the VA hospitals, “Over the years, quality goes up, but the cost stays flat, compared to the rest of the country.” 

This of course exposes the lies of John McCain and others who say it would be cheaper to privatize the VA. It would be just the opposite. 

In an article published by the Hudson Institute, one of the nation’s leading cheerleaders for the Tea Party point of view, Betsy McCaughy, a former Lt. Governor of New York wrote, “Dr. James Bragian, director of the National Center for Patient Safety at the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, points out that the VA is a leader in safety initiatives ranging from preventing injuries related to falls to fighting one of the most feared, drug-resistant hospital infections, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. In 2002 the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System launched a pilot program that reduced such infections a stunning 85%.” Since then that program has been instituted nationwide. 

The above incidents only give a keyhole size view into the VA system. Obviously not every facility is run at the same level of efficiency and some facilities, like most of the US infrastructure, are wearing out due in large measure to an inattentive congress. But there is no denying the system is working at a level at which most private hospitals can only aspire. 

Jerry McNerney, (D) from California’s San Joaquin Valley’s 11th District is one politician who seems to understand the value of the VA healthcare system and has generated political support from unusual quarters as a result. 

McNerney has successfully delivered federal funding for increased brain traumatic injuries for veterans and funding for a new veterans care facility in the San Joaquin Valley that will make medical care more accessible to veterans. 

As a result Dave Norris, the former state commander of the VFW, and [Spike Schau, a member of] the Warriors Watch Riders of Ca., a politically active, pro-military motorcycle club filmed an endorsement for McNerney that recently aired on northern California television.Ordinarily Norris and Warrior Watch Riders would have voted for McNerney’s opponent.Others, concerned about the predicted Tea Party tidal wave, should pay attention. 

You can see McNerney’s ad here: CD11: McNerney launches first TV ad | Political Blotter


[Editor's Note: Mr. Schau has informed the Planet that he endorsed McNerney and appeared in the video on his own behalf, not as a spokesman for an organization, and that he has asked the campaign to remove his titles from the video.]