Ask an Alabama veteran what government-run healthcare really looks
like (Opinion by Pete Hegseth)
By Special to AL.com
on December 10, 2013
If Alabamians want to know what government-run health care looks like in
practice, they need only ask myself or one of Alabama’s 418,000
veterans. These men and women have put their lives on the line for their
country—and yet the Department of Veterans Affairs thanks us with a
health care system that can deliver sub-standard care and a bureaucratic
It’s a lesson that the country should learn from. Riven with problems,
the VA has a history of underserving—and in some cases harming—the very
veterans it is supposed to help. This fundamentally calls into question
whether the titanic Obamacare can succeed where its smaller predecessor
The prognosis isn’t good. The most obvious problem is VA’s disability
claims backlog. According to the department, it has just under 700,000
claims in its system. Yet over half of that number—a staggering
400,000—have been in the queue for over a third of a year.
These claims aren’t just numbers—they’re veterans who need medical
attention. Politicians from the President on down have promised to help
us get the medical help we need in a timely manner, and yet the backlog
remains as stubbornly high as ever. VA still missed out on its FY2013
goals by a full 100,000 claims.
Like Obamacare, many of VA’s problems are technological. For instance,
the department still handles 97 percent of its claim process via paper.
The result? Inefficiency that smacks of Healthcare.gov.
Other problems get to the heart of health care itself. Many veterans
morbidly describe their interactions with VA as “Delay, deny, wait till
I die.” For instance, every day, 22 veterans commit suicide, and yet at
least a third of us have to wait at least two weeks before getting a
routine mental health check-up.
The wait times can be even longer for more serious conditions. In a
preview of what awaits average patients at standard hospitals, a CNN
investigation last month described veterans’ plight best: “Military
veterans are dying needlessly because of long waits and delayed care at
U.S. veterans hospitals.”
Charles Skipper’s story is case in point. A retired member of the United
States Army, he served in Vietnam during the late 1960s. His tour of
duty earned him two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a lifelong battle
with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Charles Skipper is an American hero—and yet he has been routinely
mistreated by VA. He submitted a disability claim more than six years
ago. Today, he is still waiting for an update. All he could say to me
was, “If you really want to know what Obamacare is going to be like,
just look at the VA system.”
It’s a travesty that Mr. Skipper’s situation exists at all. But instead
of rectifying it, Washington has poured billions of dollars into a
nationalized health care system that may well bring his pain to millions
of other’s lives.
Those politicians should instead devote their efforts to fulfilling the
promises they’ve made veterans. If they won’t do that, then the
politicians who passed the Affordable Care Act should at least answer
one simple question: If they can’t fix VA, what right do they have to
“fix” it for the rest of the nation? My brothers and sisters across the
country and in Alabama have the answer, if those politicians don’t.
Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America and an Army
veteran of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.