VA sets a bad tone on spending

VA sets a bad tone on spending

Photo courtesy the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Ah! Springtime in Kansas. Balmy days, cool nights and pollen on the breeze. It never used to bother me, but this year the allergies or hay fever or whatever it is has knocked the crap out of me. My head is so full of snot that it feels like I am walking in six feet of motor oil.

My eyes are watering, won't focus well and are super light sensitive. My sinuses are draining down my throat and causing me to cough and choke frequently. Put succinctly, I am miserable. All I want to do is sleep, but I can't breathe well enough to sleep comfortably. Miserable, I say.

I'm now pushing fluids heavily, though I got a false start last night — wrong kind of fluids a friend brought back from a vacation in Ireland. Those didn't help at all. So I guess "rest and fluids" is a useful — if ubiquitous — coping mechanism.

As I try to rest, I can hear the heavy equipment a block or two away at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center — a.k.a, the Dole Veterans' Center.

They all have the annoying beepers sounding every time they put the vehicle into reverse. That noise starts about 7 in the morning and continues until late afternoon.

I don't begrudge the VA for making noise. They have a lot of construction going on over there.

After the scandals of last year's Phoenix VA hospital with it's unforgivable waiting lists and the cover up that tried to hide them, it's good to see the Veterans Administration getting down to business. Congress threw money at them with orders to purge ineffective administrators and get health care going to our vets

Something like $10 billion was put into the pipeline, much of it to cut waiting times and some of it (about $4 billion) to allow vets who couldn't get service in a timely fashion to go to civilian docs through the CHOICE program. A new administrator with business CEO experience replaced Gen. John Shinseki at the helm.

When I began to hear the work at the Dole VA Center, I assumed (silly me!) that the money had reached the local level and something new was being constructed. Maybe a shiny new out patient clinic. And just two blocks away.

At this juncture, I probably ought to say that I am a veteran from the Viet Nam War era. A year or two ago I went over to get signed up for health benefits. The nice lady took my information and told me that I was now in the system. (Is there something that sounds sinister to you about the phrase "in the system"?)

Just as I thought I was ready to receive health care from a neighborhood source, the nice lady added a caveat.

"Of course, your income is too high to get free care. That is, unless your injuries or condition are service related."

Well, I was surprised to hear that Social Security and my KPERS pension put me in an ineligible position.

I wasn't surprised that my two years as a military policeman at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma had not left me with any service-related injuries.

The upshot of all this is that I can use the VA health facilities, but Medicare and my supplemental insurance have to pick up the cost.

The only time I can imagine using the VA is if I have an accident or a heart attack and they are the closest emergency room.

Anyway, there will still be that shiny new clinic — won't there? Of course not.

Well, when I drove slowly by the construction area on the north side of the Dole campus, I took a good look at what they were doing.

Some of the construction was not easily understood, but much of it was crystal clear.

They were building permanent covers over large areas of the parking lots. Nothing health related at all. Just a cooler place to park.

Congress hurried the bills to up the VA funding, and we get parking covers.

I'm sure that if I asked someone in charge, they would say that the coverings were planned long before the crisis was exposed. And besides, they came out of the capital improvements budget and not the operations budget. You can't spend capital expenditures out of the operating budget. Jeez. What kind of a schlub doesn't know that?

Kathleen Miller, writing for Bloomberg News, said last week in an article that appeared in the Wichita Eagle that bureaucratic inefficiency and resistance to a culture change has meant that only about a fourth of the money fast tracked by Congress has been spent.

It's this kind of bureaucratic nonsense that conservatives point to in their diatribes against big government.

It adds ammunition to their arguments against a single-payer medical system. It is almost too much of a "gimmee" to argue with.

If government is going to be big and costly, it had better be accountable and efficient. And we haven't seen that in a long time.