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Time for a Dose of Reality

9:35 AM, Jun 19, 2014 • By KEVIN NICHOLSON
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The events of the last few weeks have been gut wrenching for many active duty members of the military and veterans. We have watched the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care scandal unfold, the absurdly lopsided trade of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five top-level Taliban commanders, and now the loss of hard-won Iraqi cities to ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) following the premature withdrawal of all U.S. troops from that country.

Obama thinking

Through these events, the gaping disconnect between the would-be world inhabited by President Obama and his allies in the media and academia, and the reality that actually governs the world, has been laid bare. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the recent failures that have engulfed the Obama administration are all related to the military. Reality hits home quickly in military matters; military affairs are not an area where you can play, as the leadership and elected officials of the left have long been playing, an elaborate game of pretend.  This game has allowed them to extol the virtues of a fundamentally flawed VA in pursuit of healthcare-related political victories, and to trade Taliban commanders for AWOL privates against the advice of military professionals.  The same attitude enables President Obama and his allies to conclude that, since they never supported the war in Iraq in the first place, they therefore had no responsibility to make sure that the conflict was resolved responsibly.

In stark contrast to the actions of the Obama administration, most Americans take on the problems they face through the lens of reality. They deal with the world as it is, before attempting to change or improve it. They expect to encounter some level of complication with any plan that they put into motion, and they adjust accordingly when problems appear. Any of these common sense measures would have helped to avert the Obama administration’s failures as they relate to the VA, the release of top-level Taliban commanders, and the unraveling situation in Iraq.

Fudging the Numbers

The fundamental problems exhibited in the VA scandal have been hiding in plain sight of everyone who has had access to the Internet since about 2007.  These details have been willfully and purposefully ignored by left-of-center commentators and leaders. In 2007, then Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein stated that “the VA's lead in care quality isn't disputed.” The New York Times’s Paul Krugman promoted the VA as a model to be “emulated by the rest of our health care system” in 2011.

Yet from 2007 to 2009, published news reports highlighted multiple cases of major VA failures. To name a few: 19 veterans died due to substandard care at a Marion, Illinois, VA hospital; 100 veterans received botched radiation treatments at a VA hospital in Pennsylvania; 10,000 veterans were exposed to AIDS and hepatitis at multiple facilities; and all of this while vets across the nation faced significantly longer wait times for service than reported and advertised by the VA. 

Hardly a model to emulate, the VA’s health care system is a system in need of an overhaul. But instead of calling attention to this reality, the leading lights of the Democratic party’s brain trust held up the VA as a model for aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As a graduate student just a few years ago, I sat through lectures from renowned experts at Harvard and Dartmouth as they extolled the virtues of everything from the vaunted electronic records system of the VA to the system’s purported ability to reduce costs, all while producing superior health results.

In his blog, Krugman has even gone so far as to state, “Integrated care — and effective use of electronic records — delivered rising quality of care [at the VA] even as it reduced costs.”  Krugman continued, “Yes, I know, someone will chime in with a VA horror story, because any large health system will make errors. But the VA clearly delivers care as good or better than most civilians receive, at sharply lower cost.” 

Leave aside the fact that veterans are civilians (active duty military receive care from the military’s separate medical system). A system that effectively kills people due to its administrative failures does not provide “good or better” care than most “civilians” receive. The severity of mistakes made in a command and control environment like the VA, and the immediate and unforgiving impact of those mistakes on many veterans’ lives, makes it tough to hide the ridiculousness of Krugman’s argument.

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