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Health Care for Veterans

Twenty-eight thousand of our troops have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. But many got home only to be neglected by the veterans care system. The Scty of Vets Affairs has, correctly, resigned. Now a presidential blue-ribbon panel has made recommendations for overhauling that system. This war is going to be going on for many years; let’s be sure that we properly fix the VA health system, not just put a band-aid on it. Our troops deserve /br /Until Pres Clinton messed with the VA health services system, it was serving some 3 million veterans who needed its unique facilities and care. Clinton opened the doors to all 26 million veterans as an unfunded mandate. This expansion was the cause of the creation of 8 categories of veterans for health care. By its own estimate, since embargoing ‘Category 8’ (previously ineligible) veterans from new enrollments, the current VA estimate is 1.5 million Cat 8s who have been denied access. br /br /The problem is money, or a lack of it. Under the pre-1992 rules, only veterans with clear service-connected health problems and/or financial need were eligible for service. We must ensure that needy eligible veterans get the service they deserve. There can be no more unfunded mandates.Under current legal guidance, the VA has authority to out source any patient to non-VA care, and it does do this on a very limited basis. For example, those requiring ontological services are routinely outsourced because the VA does not maintain any capability. This is definitely a cost effective measure. Trouble is that the VA does not use outsourcing as it might. Consider rural veterans who are far distant from the nearest VA medical facility. In Michigan, for example, they have one VA Hospital located in Ann Arbor (near Detroit) and that is it.Consider these numbers –50% of eligible veterans live within 85 miles of the VA hospital. The remaining 50% live an average distance 210 miles from the hospital. The most remote veteran must travel at least 310 miles to get to the hospital.The point is that the VA requires these veterans to travel those distances (at $0.10/mile reimbursement with no reimbursement for food and overnight lodging) rather than outsource them to local health care providers for treatment. It is this failure to out source that has caused the long wait times and back logs for routine health services.I recommend returning to the pre-1992 system (before Clinton messed with it). That may be impossible, but I believe that we can reduce the eligibility to those who really need the VA health services. That means goodbye to the higher numbered categories beginning with Cat 8, many of whom have the financial capability but are along for the free ride. It would be wonderful if we could include them, but our first priority must be the returning combat veterans and the others who have been eligible over the years.

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Denny Gillem
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