America Already Has A Single-Payer System, And It’s Killing Veterans Like Me

America Already Has A Single-Payer System, And It’s Killing Veterans Like Me

In a single-payer system, government covers basic health care costs for all residents regardless of income, occupation, or health status. Veterans Affairs is such a system.
Jonathan LaForce
By

People keep talking about single-payer health care and universal health care as if somehow such systems are spontaneously going to save all of humankind from some sort of dreaded mass bodily failure. Guess what? The alarmists are full of crap. It’s nothing but lies. How does Jon know? What possible knowledge could Jon possess about health care? Go ahead. Ask.

Veterans Affairs. It was founded specifically to handle men (and women) who joined the uniformed services of these United States, signed a blank check made payable for an amount up to and including their lives, then to do its very best to fulfill what they raised their right hand and swore an oath to perform, regardless of that cost.

The VA is expected to “to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.” They are expected to do it without regard for race, sex, sexual preference, religious creed, or origin. And they routinely fail—miserably.

Veterans Kill Themselves Over Rationed Care

It’s not hard to find their failures. On May 12, 2015, in Phoenix, Arizona, a veteran seeking help was turned away from the local clinic. He walked out to his truck, turned a gun on himself, and blew his brains out. On 4 May 2016, a young soldier the VA refused to admit for psychiatric help did the exact same thing. On 24 March 2016, a 51-year-old vet in New Jersey tried to obtain help at the local VA clinic, was refused, and did the only thing he felt he had left to do: he doused himself in gasoline in front of the clinic, lit himself on fire, and died.

Within the last two years, we’ve seen reports of vets who threw themselves out the upper windows of VA hospitals because some moronic bureaucrat decided these men were “all better now and didn’t need or deserve further help.” The bureaucrats wouldn’t listen, and these people felt they had nowhere else to go.

We talk about the 22 veterans a day who are said to commit suicide. That’s what it looks like! There’s a reason for line about having “A second chance to die for your country.” Even among non-lethal events, it’s enough to make me unhappy. We have ancient men, well into their 70s, who spend hours waiting on needed medication at VA facilities and wind up sleeping on the floor with bags of pill bottles for their pillows. How the h-ll does this happen? Is this the kind of health care Americans really want for everyone?

Single-payer health care is defined as a system in which the government, financed by taxes, covers basic health costs for all residents regardless of income, occupation, or health status. The VA is such a system. Its budget is (FY 2018) $186.5 billion.

The last census I can find, dated May 2014, lists 8.92 million people enrolled in the VA health care system, for which the budget then was $150.7 billion. It includes 350 hospitals and 820 clinics. It really makes you wonder: Why, in the most technologically capable, productive, first-world country on the planet, do we have great-grandfathers who sacrificed for their country sleeping on cold linoleum waiting to see doctors and get real treatment? Why is committing suicide preferable to waiting for help to come?

Welcome to Single-Payer, Folks

I’ll leave you to ponder that while I explain some more facts of life. In addition to medical care, the VA also provides compensation and pension for those who are injured in service. You go in, speak with a veteran services’ officer, present your medical records, file for the injuries (while continuing to lack treatment), and then you wait.

Why wait? What are we waiting for? Good question. First, the electronic paperwork has to move through a labyrinthian process of review, after which you get a letter telling you the VA has now received the paperwork you filed a month or more prior and somebody will be getting in touch with you to determine what’s next. A couple months will pass (if you’re lucky), after which you will receive a phone call telling you that appointments have been scheduled for examination. You must make those appointments or you cannot receive a rating.

Notice what’s missing? If you said a human being to check if this exam is compatible with your schedule, you’d be correct. The appointments are filed without any input or knowledge on your part. You’ve got work and can’t make it? Tough luck, Joe. You’re a single parent and don’t have anybody to watch your kids so you can make your appointment? Too bad. Guess you’ll have to do without.

Nor can you go into a local doctor with forms for them to fill out and mail to the VA. These are third-party contractors the VA has hired as “impartial judges.” They do nothing more than diagnose what’s wrong, and how severe. To limit who can handle these things, the medical reviewer has to be certified by the VA. So we have the people paying your bills deciding whether you need care. Please tell me how that’s supposed to be trustworthy.

After your visit finally occurs, the paperwork is routed to a VA rater, who reviews it and makes a determination about your case. A faceless, unnamed, unelected bureaucrat is supposed to make an intelligent decision about the future and condition of someone he or she has never met, let alone examined. If, for whatever reason, the rater decides this person really doesn’t need or deserve a high rating, the veteran will receive “not service connected” or “0% rating.” And the appeal system if you disagree with that decision is lengthy.

In Los Angeles County, the average time to complete a claim is three years. Not three weeks, not three months, but 36 months. During that time you may or may not be fit to actually work, nor receive the care you need. Now do we start to see why there might be a problem?

War Ruined My Body, and the VA Is Making It Worse

When I came home from Afghanistan, I noticed my hearing was problematic, to the point that unless someone was speaking with sufficient volume, I could not make sense of what he said. But every ear exam came back as “You’re good, LaForce, nothing’s wrong with you.”

This kept happening from November 2011 all the way to December 2016, when I told an audiologist in the St. George Clinic “I ain’t crazy, I can’t hear. Great, you keep giving me the tone tests, I keep passing. But when I’m in a classroom, when I’m at home, when I’m anywhere and awake, the whole of humanity sounds like the teacher from Charlie Brown. Unless they are in my face with the volume of Drill Instructor Sergeant Fischer, I cannot understand them! You’re the guy who knows ears and hearing. Figure it out.”

The audiologist called a speech pathologist 360 miles away in Salt Lake City and scheduled an appointment. Two months out was the soonest I could get in to see her. For the record, in the entire state of Utah, there are maybe two speech pathologists directly employed by the VA who work in the Salt Lake City facility.

After undergoing a series of tests and three separate trips to SLC, the pathologist finally figured out what so many had missed: I had a traumatic brain injury. Somewhere along the way, I had gained one sufficient to scramble the nerves between my ear and brain so I could no longer properly process what I heard at a certain volume level. It’s so bad that on the bell curve, I’m in the 61st percentile, and show signs of gradually getting worse.

The diagnosis occurred in April. I amended a claim filed in February to include it. Take a guess what we learned in July, three months later: according to my paperwork, the VA rater only bothered to check my medical record in February when the original claim was filed, then stopped.

I’m Still Waiting to Get Care, Four Years Later

Today, I received information that somehow, an injury that has plagued me since boot camp on through my time in the fleet and since somehow magically improved in February. I will now have to file an appeal for this. Meanwhile, I still cannot work a regular job. No sitting for long period, no standing for long periods. No lifting over 20 pounds. No squats. Nothing. I have to be flat on my back in order to not feel pain, and even that can only last so long. When your wife and two toddlers become ill, they either suffer, or you choke down Motrin and stumble around doing what you can to help ease their problems.

I have to be flat on my back in order to not feel pain, and even that can only last so long.

What about physical therapy? The VA only authorizes six appointments at a stretch, after which the physical therapist has to call and get more appointments authorized. That will happen only if the VA ever bothers to pick up the phone and call them back. I’ve been waiting since February for that, and I have my doubts. Not that the VA cares. You had physical therapy! You must be better now!

Show me how six appointments over three weeks is magically supposed to make years of damage disappear. I had to leave the service over these injuries. I still can’t run, four years after having left active duty and no longer pounding my body into submission to maintain good physical condition. I was running as much as 66 miles per week, most of it on my own time, to stay in good shape. If you held a gun to my head now, I could maybe do a quarter-mile before my back gave out on me, and then I’d tell you to pull the trigger.

Because the VA controls the means of communication, because there is no means of accountability over decision making, and we veterans are forced to undergo this in silence for fear of retaliation, it continues. I have no means of recourse beyond what I’ve outlined. It is frustration and aggravation to the extreme. But we’re supposed to just live with it. Hooray for single-payer.

Nobody Wants More Of This, Trust Me

To some degree, I do just endure it. I get good care at my local VA clinic, and the doctor has done what he can for me. I endure because the compensation and pension I receive is enough to keep my family off the street. But something has got to change. A man cannot live on pain pills alone. Either cure him or kill him, because hanging out in limbo is not living. It is simply suffering. And that ain’t right.

In a better world, the VA would operate fewer hospitals and spend the bulk of its slimmed-down budget enabling veterans to seek private care through vouchers or a similar system, and there would be no trouble getting those vouchers accepted because the VA paid on time (if you think that isn’t a problem, you’re nuts). I could go to my local, private hospital here in St. George if I needed surgery, seek out and obtain physical therapy from a trained private professional, create a plan that addresses my issues, and through several months of sound medical care become sufficiently well that I no longer received VA compensation for it.

Either cure him or kill him, because hanging out in limbo is not living. It is simply suffering. And that ain’t right.

Why? Because I was healed. Made whole. Not drugged up to the gills and screwed over. In a better world, I’d be pursuing a commission from the Marines upon my graduation from college with a bachelor’s. I would be able to work a full-time job right now that took care of my family so we weren’t living month-to-month.

When all we are is a rising cost to be pruned by bureaucrats, those who control the system will be our overlords. Go take a look at how many times VA personnel were charged for misconduct and misbehavior, then let off without reprimand, or worse promoted to a new billet in a different region to cover up the misconduct!

Whistleblowers charge Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a former assistant secretary at the VA, tried to retaliate against them for going public with veteran abuse. We’ve seen more people fired from the VA, or placed on suspension pending review and firing, since Inauguration Day 2017 than we have in the prior eight years of the Obama administration combined.

If you want long waits, even inside the doctor’s office, months before actually seeing a doctor about pressing issues, if you want faceless bureaucrats determining your life, if you truly in your heart of hearts think that somehow this is healthy and good, you go right on ahead. If you want to see more babies wind up like Charlie Gard, you go right on ahead and do that damnably awful thing.

I want a better world. But the only way I can have that is to make it for myself. Because the system is failing those who need it. And I’m tired of suffering. I’m tired of the pain. My wife needs better. My children deserve better. The American people deserve better.

A former corporal in 12th Marine Regiment, Jonathan LaForce is now a full-time student at Dixie State University where he pursues an English degree with a creative writing emphasis. His goal is to become a professional author of science fiction and fantasy.

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