The following was written by Chuck Winn, a Vietnam Veteran who completed a 32 year Army career advancing from private to colonel. Winn is active in over a dozen military and veterans organizations.
It took severely disabled combat-wounded Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., to shine a light on an outrageously flawed veterans affairs system. Duckworth, who lost both legs as a combat aviator commanding a mobilized National Guard unit in Iraq, ripped apart the testimony of a peacetime veteran who had twisted his ankle during his brief period of active duty and was able to collect a 30 percent disability from the Veterans Administration. Unfortunately, that individual is merely one of the hundreds of thousands who cause our combat wounded and operationally injured veterans excessive wait times for the care and compensation they earned.
Duckworth exposed a mammoth systemic problem caused by decades of bad policy and legislation. From the 1970s through the 1990s, sweeping legislative changes extended full veteran status to millions despite absurdly brief periods of low-risk service. Even those who were kicked out for alcohol and drug abuse or other reasons of unsuitability, or those who never left the States, suddenly became full veterans. The vast majority wanted involuntary early discharges to avoid undesirable, hazardous or combat duty. Now they receive the same benefits as combat vets.
Fortunately, the 2007 bipartisan Dole-Shalala Wounded Warrior Commission initiated changes to the VA medical treatment priorities. However, far too many features of the disability system epitomize the politically correct doctrine of equality, regardless of degree of sacrifice. Even today, insufficient distinction is made between duty-related injuries and disabilities coincidental to service. Substandard performers with general discharges are given parity with honorably discharged veterans. Some peacetime veterans with non-duty-related but “service connected” disabilities even receive treatment priority over combat veterans with lower ratings. Someone discharged for alcohol abuse who never served in a combat zone can still be awarded a disability for a sporting injury and receive a high treatment priority. Numerous investigations by the Government Accounting Office revealed that hundreds of thousands of veterans receive disability compensation for conditions neither caused nor aggravated by military service. These include off-duty sports and auto accidents, arthritis, inherited illnesses and ailments aggravated by years of poor health habits and risky behavior.
Continued wasteful spending on archaic VA programs is not the answer, however. Our veteran population is no longer large enough to support this infrastructure. The VA medical system was established to care for mass casualties from our World War II force of over 16 million. That would be like a force of 25 million with today’s population. The VA was never intended to provide lifetime health care to all who ever served. For the past 60 years, the average strength of the armed forces has been around 2 million, with the exception of brief expansions to over 3 million during the Korean War and the later years of Vietnam. It is, therefore, mathematically impossible to sustain the current veteran population, and as older veterans pass from the scene, it will continue to diminish.
Yes, we need a VA, but it must be totally overhauled into the equivalent of a Blue Cross for Veterans, and it must be a partner with the Defense Department for medical research and development. Reimbursing private hospitals for veteran care is also a cost-effective solution for overcrowding. Veterans disabled from combat and other duty-related injuries and illnesses deserve a gold standard of medical care and generous compensation. Socialistic programs for marginal entitlement grabbers for the sake of patient loads to justify budgets threaten our economic stability. They also demoralize our brave men and women who have given their all as true warriors.
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