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The Journal Gazette

  • Hayhurst

Tuesday, May 08, 2018 1:00 am

Privatization poor deal for vets

Tom Hayhurst

Tom Hayhurst, a Fort Wayne physician, was a major in the Air Force Medical Corps.

Many military veterans reside in northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio. All should pay close attention to the recent firing of Dr. David Shulkin as chief of the Veterans' Administration. Shulkin was forced out by President Donald Trump because of Shulkin's resistance to the proposed closure of VA hospitals and clinics and the privatization of the medical care of our veterans.

It is a widely held view that Trump and his allies, such as the Koch brothers, are actively campaigning to end the current VA health care system. The effort to shrink the VA and privatize veterans' health care has been  a stealthy process designed to mislead vets and their allies into giving up support of the current system. If successful, this would force vets to obtain their health care from the private sector. It is important that veterans and veterans' service organizations here become aware that the long history of our honored veterans receiving health care funded by the citizens and government they have served is under political assault.

Government's role in assuring proper health care for veterans dates as far back as 1812. The current VA Health Care System was founded in 1930. Hospitals, as well as outpatient clinics, are included in the VA system. Outpatient care, including treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder pateints, has been emphasized especially since the 1990s.

Millions of our honored veterans rely on the VA system for their health care. Despite occasional isolated problems, VA health care has received positive ratings in numerous independent studies. In one study involving hundreds of thousands of observations, VA patients received better care than matched non-VA patients for a variety of chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as cancer. Vets older than 65 were shown to receive better care than comparable Medicare Advantage recipients older than 65 in another study.

When problems have arisen, they have been dealt with effectively on a national scale, an option not readily available to the remainder of the U.S. health care system. The VA has been innovative in the early use of an integrated national electronic medical record system. It is also a leader in improving care for those with chronic disorders based on national performance measurements.

So why are our president and many of his congressional allies setting the stage to privatize veterans' health care? Certainly, one reason is that the VA system is a huge federal bureaucracy. Ideologues often oppose federal government programs, even if these organizations have a record of success in serving their constituents. Steve Bannon and his disciples do not seem to care that the VA provides proven high-quality, cost-effective care for our veterans. They oppose the VA simply because it is a government program – part of the imagined “deep state.”

So, how do these national developments affect northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio veterans and their families? We are fortunate to have an excellent regional VA hospital here in Fort Wayne. A little more than 10 years ago, the Veterans' Administration started the process of closing down the inpatient beds at the Fort Wayne Regional VA Hospital. The organization Veterans for Better Health Care and multiple veterans' service organizations waged a multiyear campaign to save the local VA.

Mark Souder, Indiana's 3rd District congressman at that time, advised a gathering of more than two dozen veterans' organization representatives that closing the local VA inpatient beds was a “done deal.” Immediately after his statement, 90 percent of those in the room raised their hands when asked whether they wanted to “fight like hell” to save the VA. To his credit, Souder took note of this reaction and publicly supported subsequent efforts to save the local VA hospital. During the past decade, the Fort Wayne Regional VA Hospital has continued to provide excellent inpatient and outpatient care to the many veterans in this region.

Fast-forward to the present: our current congressman, Jim Banks, has repeatedly emphasized his prior military service and his support of veterans and the current VA system. He also supports Trump, who is actively seeking to privatize the VA system, a process which could likely result in closure of the Fort Wayne VA inpatient and outpatient facilities for which many have fought so long and hard. It is time for veterans and veterans' service organizations in this region to question Banks and all regional congressional and senatorial candidates on their position regarding Trump's effort to close the highly rated and cost-effective current VA system.

We have had enough of elected officials who promise to support veterans and do not follow through after they are in office. My advice: Insist that Banks and other candidates for federal office actively verify that they will fight to protect our VA health care system from destruction through “privatization.”