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John Johnson: Veterans Affairs isn’t broken, but VA health care is

John Johnson

WARREN, Minn. — I would like to preface this by stating that I am a Vietnam Era veteran. It was a turbulant time in our history, as well as a time when most entered the military via the draft.

As such, I have used the VA — the Veterans Administration, now the Department of Veterans Affairs — for educational benefits. Many of my brother and sister veterans have also benefited by their housing and employment programs.

But I would not set foot inside a VA health care facility for a variety of reasons, a feeling shared by many who served during that time.

First of all, I was denied eligibility for VA health care because I had “too many financial resources.” At the time I was drafted, they did not question my resources; but now, my time in service apparently is deemed less important to the VA, just because of some financial success in life.

Due to the diligent work of my county veterans representative, I finally was granted eligibility for health care but at a “Priority Level 8” status, which means “not much care.”

Did Herald readers know that VA health care prioritizes veterans — again, deeming some more important than others?

I have no problem with those of limited means being granted better access to care. What I am saying is that we taxpayers would be getting a better return on our tax dollar if the whole VA Health Care system were scrapped, and every vet was given the option of using his or her local medical facility with the VA picking up the tab.

I would venture to say that would result in a more efficient and cost-effective system.

Again, no deserving vet should be denied care, but under the system I propose — which is fashioned after the existing Tri-Care system that most military retirees use — all veterans could be served.

Furthermore, under the Affordable Care Act and also taking into account the expansion of Medicaid systems in states, veterans of limited means could be cared for locally and not have to be shipped off to a VA clinic or hospital, sometimes hundreds of miles from their homes.

(By the way, the transportation of veterans under the current system also leaves much to be desired. There is a network of vans, and the vans capably and generously staffed by volunteers. But are the vans accessible to veterans with mobility issues? No, they are not; those veterans are out of luck.)

I know some vets who only use the VA for their medications, but the VA does not cover all meds. Some go to the VA hospital for medical procedures, but not all procedures are covered in every hospital.

I heard of a veteran from Texas, who returned from overseas with severe head and brain trauma; the VA was going to send him to Florida for rehabilitation, as none of the Texas VA hospitals were equipped to provide that service. This would have uprooted not only the veteran but also his wife, her job, his children and their family support system.

Under my proposal, that vet could have received care in Texas, with the VA paying for the procedures.

I’ve heard local politicians tout that the VA health care system in North Dakota is not broken. News flash: It is, for some of the reasons given; but in fairness, it’s probably not as broken as in some other areas.

I say, scrap the whole VA health care system, determine eligibility and substitute it with the Tri-Care approach. If you “put lipstick on a pig, you are still left with a pig” – in other words, don’t keep throwing money at and tweaking a dysfunctional system.

Johnson, a retired social-service worker, served in the U.S. Navy from 1967 to 1971.