Each semester, we bring together more than 60 young leaders from across the country to participate in our internship program in DC. They are given the opportunity of practical experience working on policy research, marketing, and business, to training on marketing, blogging, and public speaking. Combine trips to the Pentagon, National Archives, and Mount Vernon with each intern’s individual talents and passion, and each Young Leaders Program graduate will leave Heritage equipped for success.
This semester, we challenged each member in the class to submit a personal story, and bring conservative principles to life. The first piece, written by Sgt. Joseph Wade Miller, USMC, is the second runner-up of all submissions this semester. Stay tuned for the runner up and the winner.
Veteran’s Insights into Government Run Healthcare and the Implications of Obamacare on Everyone Else
by Sgt. Joseph Wade Miller, USMC
Try, hard as it may seem, to imagine a hypothetical situation in which both liberals and conservatives largely agree on a program which provides healthcare to a large segment of our population. This program would be relatively well funded, and the success of said program is politically important for both sides. One needs not to think of this as an impossible task for the simple reason that such a program already exists. The Veterans Health Administration, as well as the Veterans Benefits Administration, under the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs are the programs I am referring to. Both programs are politically supported by both sides of the aisle and funding for them is rarely a hot button issue. Who wants to be known as the person who was against funding a program that helps heal wounded and injured U.S. military personnel after all?
If support and funding for these programs is considered politically viable, morally correct, and patriotic in action for both major parties, then why is it that the Health & Benefits departments of the V.A. is rife with examples of inefficiency, delays, bureaucratic red tape, and poor service? Now, I am not here to take cheap shots at individual employees within the V.A. system as there are thousands of nurses, doctors, administrative staff, janitors, etc., that go to work at these hospitals everyday with the sole intent of helping our nations heroes. Invariably, however, the intent of these worker bees is overshadowed by the whims, rules, red tape, and regulations of the queen bee. In this case that queen bee is the federal government. We should not expect any difference in quality and efficiency with other forms of government run healthcare, including Obamacare. If anything, we should expect worse service, longer waits, and even larger bureaucratic nightmares.
Let’s look at a few examples of the types of things we can expect if our access to private free market healthcare is eliminated by a large government run system.
Cpl. Shane Chambers (retired) of the United States Marine Corps was wounded by grenade shrapnel in the town of Al-Karmah, Iraq in March of 2006. His wounds caused nerve damage in his right leg which to this day requires a leg brace. After receiving care in military hospitals and subsequently being medically retired, Cpl. Chambers began to fill out his V.A. paperwork in May of 2007 in order to receive disability compensation for wounds suffered while protecting this nation. The review process was “long and the paperwork was very confusing”. Cpl. Chambers then started experiencing further complications including PTSD and ocular nerve palsy. Additional V.A. claims were submitted along with appeals to earlier decisions. Many more months passed, and more requested paperwork was submitted. During this time, Cpl. Chambers has run into the common problem of having to wait long periods of time to get appointments scheduled, sometimes having to wait months, and then having to sit in waiting rooms for hours. Nearly six years later, after one of our nations finest and bravest was injured in combat, he is still waiting to get the appropriate amount of timely and efficient care, as well as the veteran’s pension decision commensurate to the wounds he sustained.
Former USMC Sgt., Steve Fisher, has a similarly disturbing example of running into a brick wall of government bureaucracy. Injured in an IED roadside bomb attack that struck his humvee in the area surrounding Fallujah, Iraq in 2006, Steve initially filed his claim in 2007. Steve suffered traumatic brain injury, lumbar spinal injuries, tinnitus, PTSD, an injured knee, and eventually a degree of hearing and vision loss from the attack. Because of the numerous injuries, the process of receiving care, filing a claim, attending school, and working proved very difficult. The initial claim was denied because Steve missed several medical appointments. Apparently, Steve was not notified that when you move you do not call just one place in the V.A. where they can change your address in the system, you have to call numerous places and change your address numerous times. Appointment notices were being sent out but Steve was not receiving them. For whatever reason, no one ever bothered to explain this to Steve. So while recovering from combat wounds, because of a simple bureaucratic oversight, one of our nations finest was having to struggle to heal, attend school, and bring home an income to put food on his table, all the while meeting the demands of the V.A. to attend many different appointments with little to no flexibility which required him to miss either school or work and included lengthy waiting times in lobbies reading 3 year old copies of Sports Illustrated. Steve re-filed a claim in 2008. Only after having sought the assistance of Sen. Roberts (KS) and Rep. Tiahrt (KS) was another decision finally delivered in December of 2009. Being relieved to finally have the government acknowledge his combat related injuries, but not satisfied to the extent of the compensation, Steve appealed the decision. To this day, nearly 6 years later, another one of our nation’s finest is still sitting by waiting for the government to address his claim. This is 6 years of endless paperwork, phone calls, emails, and medical appointments.
Yet, another Marine, former Sgt. Zach Jones, was wounded in a mortar attack in April of 2006 in the area surrounding Al-Karmah, Iraq. The wounds he filed for initially included tendinitis, and scars from mortar shrapnel. Although he first filed his V.A. claim in December of 2006, Zach did not receive an initial decision until January of 2008. On appeal and new filings for PTSD, Zach received an updated decision in November of 2010. In May of 2011, another updated decision covered Zach’s migraine headaches, a residual of traumatic brain injury, and a radiculopathy of a lower extremity. It took five years for Zach to be properly diagnosed and compensated for his combat wounds. During this process the V.A. lost his entire medical records. Summing up the sentiment of many veterans, Zach added, “I’ve done multiple tests that are the exact same but outsourced to different practices all over Houston. I have had doctors take x-rays over and over and over of my back then some tell me I don’t have shrapnel (in his back) and some tell me I do. With the V.A. it seems like two steps forward then one step back. You feel like you are getting nowhere and for them to make a decision you have to see five different people about the same thing and explain it all over which feels like you are starting all over again. People that work at the desk often have the attitude that you are bothering them and don’t seem to want to be there.”
These are not isolated examples. Ask many congressional aides what constituent issues they deal with the most and V.A. complaints will consistently rank amongst the top of that list. My own experiences as a Marine, having served with many who utilize V.A. services, is that the system generally has a low approval rating. Only a very small percentage of veterans I talk to are pleased with their overall experience through V.A. healthcare.
The point I am making is that even under the best political climate and resolve, government run healthcare misses the mark and does not compare to the quality in service and care that a vibrant free market based system provides. This is not to suggest that we should get rid of the V.A. I believe, as I assume most do, that the V.A. is a vital program which assists those who have made immeasurable sacrifices for the security of our nation and our liberty. If the idea that society has a moral duty to take care of those injured and wounded while wearing our nation’s uniforms is the equivalent of one small step forward for man, then the idea of the universal system that is Obamacare, having been born in the same bureaucratic culture, is a giant leap backward for mankind. Some might gasp at my contention that universal provisions of healthcare is anti-progress, but many of those people ignore the simple point that it is not free healthcare, as the taxes that pay for it, or the insurance mandates purchased for it, come in the form of government collecting a portion of the product of our private labors. Healthcare provided in this manner is coerced support, with no opt out, of an industry that has no free market functions which stifles efficiency and eliminates downward pressure on costs. Government healthcare provisions are not a munificent gift magically bestowed upon us by the grace and will of our much “wiser” and “elite” elected officials. There is a real cost associated with such decisions and this cost can be measured in decreased liberty, decreased autonomy, increased government, and increased costs.
You cannot line each system up and make perfect comparisons but you can delineate basic failures within the V.A. system, and many other government programs, and come to the clear conclusion that setting ourselves down this path of dependency on government will do nothing but increase deficits and debt, while making decent free market healthcare even more expensive to get access to. Some may make the argument that universal healthcare is a moral imperative, but what good is such a soapbox declaration if in the process of trying to realize that vision we force upon ourselves a complete fiscal insolvency and economic collapse? Will we eventually look at our children and grandchildren and explain to them that although they have no local or federal government, no funds for repairing roads, no limited social safety net, no Social Security, no Medicare or Medicaid, no defense budget or military, no police or firefighters, and no schools, it was all worth it because the progressive moral vision of an entitlement utopia, void of any pragmatic economic consideration, was the “right thing to do?” The right thing to do should be that which sustains the highest possible outcomes of prosperity for not only current generations of Americans but future ones as well. Putting in place programs that ensure eventual fiscal insolvency is not responsible or moral nor does it ensure future individual freedoms and civil society.
The real inconvenient truth in this nation is that such programs have nearly always exceeded their initial cost projections. The original projections for Medicare in 1965 were already off by approximately a factor of 10 during the early 1990’s . Currently, the CBO is showing that, before Obamacare has even gone into full effect, those cost projections have increased by a factor of 2. The cost jumped from about $900 billion and some pocket change to almost $1.76 Trillion over the next 10 years. If history is any indication I am doubling down on the Vegas odds that this changed cost projection will become a continuing trend. In an era where we can see the fiscal cliff approaching and need to begin cutting back on the size and scope of such endeavors we are merely pressing down on the gas pedal as if we can somehow gain enough momentum to clear the giant abyss of debt and economic ruin. It is this Keynesian logic, spending us into tremendous debt, which has not solved the economic hardships we face today. Keynesian’s will claim this is because we simply have not spent enough yet for it to work. In some unfathomable way, in some circles of “progressive” economic thought, the idea that $30 trillion (or more) in debt is going to be better for us than $16 trillion has gained significant traction. At the microeconomic level this is akin to saying that the best way to get rid of your credit card debt is to max out your cards on a shopping spree. American families sitting at the kitchen table paying their bills know this logic does not work and so should our government representatives.
We accept these added costs in the V.A. system because we as a people recognize that we cannot rely on the courage of the men and women of our military to protect our liberties and then abandon them when they are wounded or injured doing so. Although we do not accept the inefficiency and red tape that the system presents our troops, we accept the reality that this will be a mostly unavoidable component of any government program. For most other able bodied Americans we insist that they work hard and be productive members of society so that they can provide for themselves what they deem necessary to enjoy their natural rights to their fullest extent. This is not to suggest that we think that the elderly, the infirm, the disabled, and children should be left to fend for themselves in a survival of the fittest Mad Max-esque world. Those that believe otherwise about, like those who make commercials of prominent conservative politicians pushing old people off a cliff, are perpetuating one of the biggest lies about conservatism that we face today.
Governments, both at the federal and state levels, have a duty to avoid regulating so much so that costs make such private health services unaffordable, to get out of the way of market pressures that might bring down costs, and deter monopolistic practices which might increase costs. Once we have done our best as a country to maximize the effectiveness of the free market healthcare system, then we can begin to discuss how to help those still without coverage. The currently accepted “progressive” policy model is to provide as many people with healthcare and ignore the reason that more people do not have private coverage in the first place. “Progressive” regulations and policies increase the cost of private healthcare and then they cite the rising costs as a reason for a universal system. The appropriate way of handling real healthcare reform would be to maximize reforms aimed at increasing free market participation and then, after reducing the pool of those in need, deliberate on policies that address the needs of the nation and which would invariably be much more cost effective choices.
The role of government is not to provide for our every want and need. This prescription for policy proposals only leads to explosions of dependency and an ever growing “need” for more government programs .
The eventuality of this model is a grave threat to individual liberty and the core concepts of this nation’s founding. Government run healthcare for all Americans is a giant rung on the ladder to reaching this dangerous nexus. The effects of programs that exceed their legitimate limited social safety net functions can take years, or even decades, to reach a critical mass of danger to our constitutional system. Therefore these programs should be resisted heavily at every level of government at the earliest opportunity. Those who minimize our reaction to this evident danger as ludicrous and overblown seem blind to the principle that bad ideas do not get better over time, they just pile on top of each other and get exponentially much worse. The imperfect solution for our veterans is not the same solution that is in the best interests of our society over the long term. “If men were born in need of crutches, instead of having legs, the fact would be otherwise. We should then be in need of help, and would require outside aide; but according to the wiser and better arrangement of nature, our duty is done better by not hindering than by helping our fellow-men; or, in other words, the best way to help them is just to let them help themselves.” (Frederick Douglass) Our society should always be predicated on the idea that those who are able to should principally provide for themselves first and through charity assist others. Government should not be the primary solution to most problems in society, it should be a well crafted and thought out backup plan, based on fiscally conservative principles, that augments and compliments local and individual efforts and which does not contribute to the erosion of individual responsibility by fostering dependency.