Let’s start out with two theorems:
- Health care in the US is mediocre at best. Expensive, reactive, with crappy outcomes.
- Unlike restaurant reviews, you can’t compare how well they took your appendix out. It’s a one shot deal, so your experience vs someone else’s isn’t a relevant measurement.
A country where getting cancer also means going bankrupt, and being a diabetic may cause you to have to set up a go-fund-me, isn’t a health care system. In fact, it’s not health care we buy- we buy health insurance and hope we get care.
About 7% of Americans get health care from the government directly- we’re veterans, and despite having more complex health issues than most, the VA does provide health care- without intervention by insurance companies. Remember, all health care is delivered by individual physicians, and there are good ones and bad ones everywhere, but as the largest health care system in the country, it doesn’t take but a few to ruin the reputation of the entire system. Full disclosure, as a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Business, I did a series of videos for the Cincinnati VA  last year on a 1x contract for their Public Affairs office).
When I first got out of the Army, the VA in Dayton was kind of a scary place that I had to go to a few times for reviews, but, I got my health care through the private health care system, and my most important doctor, was a retired AF Doc who used to take care of me when I was getting my care on base. Around 2000, I made the switch to the VA for all of my care, and I’d never go back to what the private insurance controlled industry provides. The VA is Start Trek compared to the Flintstones in the actual management of your complete health care solution. The VA was one of the firsts to completely switch to electronic health records- something the private sector is still struggling with. I’ve been able to communicate with my doc and nurse online for almost a decade. My typical 2x annual GP general checkup is 30-45 minutes, and my Dad’s might have been longer. Never have I waited more than 30 minutes for a scheduled appointment, and only a few times have I had to wait longer at the lab. My prescriptions are mailed to me from refill orders online. When I have to wait at the pharmacy- it’s usually still faster than the prescriptions I used to pick up for my mother.
As to scheduling non-emergency surgical procedures, the wait varies, but, at all times was shorter than the wait list my mother was placed on for her final surgery. You can talk about waiting in Canada, or the UK, or any other industrialized country, but the reality is, if the doctor is the best at what they do, you wait. Everywhere.
When I walk into the VA it’s not some marble gilded palace like Miami Valley Hospital, with designer leather couches and waterfalls, but it’s as nice or nicer than the hospital I visited in the UK to see my uncle, who was getting outstanding care – even though he shared a room with 3 other patients. Dad had a private room in the VA. I’ve been in a 2 bed room. The reality is, I’ve also been in an open air hospital in Bonnaire and it probably had less problems with infection control than any hospital in the US. Medicine isn’t dependent on the construction finish of the building, it’s still about the competency of doctors.
So, why is the head line of this post about the CBS TV Show SEAL TEAM? Because the episode on Wednesday night, April 24, 2019 called “Medicate and Isolate” built a story around a medically retired SEAL with possible traumatic brain injury where the VA was portrayed and described as dysfunctional and dystopian. The quote that’s making the rounds “This is a soldier’s reward for serving. A health care system that runs like the post office.” Statements like these are clearly rhetoric based on anti-big-government politicos who believe that only the private sector can deliver top-quality services because they have to “compete.”
Last I checked USPS still delivers places that UPS and FedEx don’t- and is still a bargain. Had it not had to pay ridiculous health care costs, USPS would be financially whistling Dixie as would all of our private sector businesses.
Now, I’ve only been treated at a few VA’s- Dayton, Cincinnati, and my Dad was also treated at Cleveland before my parents moved down here. No where did we encounter anything like the portrayals on SEAL TEAM . I’ve got veteran friends who’ve moved to Florida- and while they aren’t as happy with the VA in “God’s waiting room” as they were in Dayton, they still believe their care is better delivered by the VA than by the private sector.
One of the main reasons for that care is that about a third of VA employees are also Veterans. There is nothing quite as comforting as having that shared experience to fall back on. Veterans have each others back- which was part of the story in SEAL TEAM’s episode, until it took the all too predictable turn of ending with a veteran suicide in the parking lot. Yes, those things happen. We hear the number 20, 21 or 22 veterans commit suicide every day. And, it’s too many. But, this country also has civilians committing suicide at record rates compared to other industrialized countries- mostly because of our easy access to guns and also because we attach a stigma to most mental health care and our craptastic capitalist competition driven health insurance industry is failing us at every possible point.
CBS tried to tie a neat little bow around their writers fantasy of killing off the VA and having veterans enter the private health care system- by putting a disclaimer at the end, “the characters and incidents in this episode are fictional and do not represent the majority of Veterans or their experience with the VA,” but the damage is done if just one vet decides that the VA isn’t for them- and that they are better on their own, self-medicating or trying to avoid the VA for that other “system” we have.
If you are a veteran, and aren’t sure if you are eligible for VA benefits, you owe it to yourself and your family and your fellow veterans to go to the VA and check your eligibility. If you are indeed eligible, consider it your golden ticket out of a system that lets diabetics die because they can’t afford their insulin, or misses early warning signs of impending illness because they don’t have the same kind of holistic, comprehensive treatment plan that the VA delivers.
And, if you are a Veteran, and you’re not happy with your VA, you are welcome to move to Dayton Ohio and enjoy mine. You’ll find that we have an incredibly affordable cost of living, we’re safe from hurricanes, earthquakes, drought, and only have an occasional twister. Your allergies may go into high gear, but, other than that, where else can you buy an amazing home for $100K ?
CBS, you owe us veterans and all the amazing people who work at the VA a major apology. You wish you had my health care. Really.