The VA Scandal: Bizarre Excuses

When an intellectual’s worldview is smashing to bits against the hard facts of reality, expect a lot of excuse making, some of it bizarre.

Wounded Soldier VerteranAs I’ve pointed out here, Phillip Longman’s book Best Care Anywhere: Why The VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours was in part responsible for the Veteran Administration’s wait time crisis.  As you can imagine, he’s been scrambling a bit since the scandal burst onto the scene.

In a post on June 5, he went so far as to lay the blame at the feet of the American people.  After reiterating his dismissal of the wait-times scandal as largely limited to Sun Belt areas (wrong), he then changes the subject:

“Now let’s consider another, more serious, and often conflated wait time issue surrounding the VA—one that also been bringing forth all kinds of claims and accusations that are in desperate need of being put into context. I’m talking about the huge backlog of vets caught in the often protracted process of just trying to establish their eligibility for VA care.

“This issue is confusing to most people, including many in the military, because they assume that vets are legally entitled to VA care, just like most seniors are entitled to Medicare or Social Security. But VA care is not an entitlement. Rather, reflecting the public’s deeply conflicted and often changing views about veterans, access to VA care is limited to vets who can establish that are ‘deserving’ according to convoluted, arcane, and often impossible-to-prove sets of ever evolving metrics and standards.”

This, of course, has nothing to do with the wait times scandal.  As the VA’s audit fact sheet noted: “Nationwide, there are roughly 57,436 Veterans who are waiting to be scheduled for care and another 63,869 who over the past ten years have enrolled in our healthcare system and have not been seen for an appointment.” (Italics added). So, whatever hurdles veterans must go through to get care (and I’m not dismissing them—there is a claims backlog of about 270,000), the veterans suffering from wait times apparently surmounted those hurdles.

After going relating a horror story of a vet struggling with establishing his eligibility for the VA and noting, Longman writes this whopper:

“It wasn’t always so. As I describe in my book, the Clinton Administration opened the doors to the VA in 1996 to anyone with an honorable discharge, and many folks who got in then remain grandfathered. But the Bush Administration slammed that door shut again in 2003, and while it has reopened a bit under Obama, we are still spending enormous resources enforcing policies designed to exclude most vets from VA care.

“If you don’t think most vets deserve any better, then fine. You are hardly alone. But don’t imagine that the VA’s bureaucracy should be blamed for carrying out laws and policies that reflect your views.”

But the bureaucracy clearly isn’t carrying out the policy if it has such a huge backlog.  The takeaway from this isn’t that the American people are at fault, but that the VA is just as inefficient at establishing eligibility as it is getting veterans timely appointments for medical care.  After all, what is the VA’s incentive to find more efficient methods for establishing eligibility?  Certainly not the threat that if veterans are upset with it, they’ll take there money elsewhere.

Finally, let’s not kid ourselves that the open policies of the Clinton Administration didn’t have problems of their own.  For example, consider the case of Larry Porter who was supposedly in the Navy and needed mental health benefits due to psychological trauma he suffered there.  From 1999-2006 he received $134,000 in VA disability benefits. But his story turned out to be false, and he served a three-year jail sentence for fraud.

Apparently “VA fakers” was a widespread problem.

Diminishing the wait time scandal, changing the subject, and then saying it’s not the fault of the bureaucracy but the American people—the things intellectuals resort to when their theories don’t work out in a very public way.

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