If Utahans want to know what government-run health care looks like in practice, they need only ask myself or one of Utah's 151,000 veterans. These men and women have put their lives on the line for their country — and yet the Department of Veterans Affairs thanks us with a health care system that can deliver sub-standard care and a bureaucratic nightmare.
It’s a lesson that the country should learn from. Riven with problems, the VA has a history of under serving — and in some cases harming — the very veterans it is supposed to help. This fundamentally calls into question whether the titanic Obamacare can succeed where its smaller predecessor has not.
The prognosis isn’t good. The most obvious problem is the VA’s disability claims backlog. According to the department, it has just under 700,000 claims in its system. Yet over half of that number — a staggering 400,000 — have been in the queue for over a third of a year.
These claims aren’t just numbers — they’re veterans who need medical attention. Politicians from the president on down have promised to help us get the medical help we need in a timely manner, and yet the backlog remains as stubbornly high as ever. the VA still missed out on its FY2013 goals by a full 100,000 claims.
Like Obamacare, many of the VA’s problems are technological. For instance, the department still handles 97 percent of its claim process via paper. The result? Inefficiency that smacks of HealthCare.gov.
Other problems get to the heart of health care itself. Many veterans morbidly describe their interactions with the VA as “Delay, deny, wait till I die.” For instance, every day, 22 veterans commit suicide, and yet at least a third of us have to wait at least two weeks before getting a routine mental health check-up.
The wait times can be even longer for more serious conditions. In a preview of what awaits average patients at standard hospitals, a CNN investigation last month described veterans’ plight best: “Military veterans are dying needlessly because of long waits and delayed care at U.S. veterans hospitals.”
Charles Skipper’s story is a case in point. A retired member of the United States Army, he served in Vietnam during the late 1960s. His tour of duty earned him two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a lifelong battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Skipper is an American hero — and yet he has been routinely mistreated by the VA. He submitted a disability claim more than six years ago. Today, he is still waiting for an update. All he could say to me was, “If you really want to know what Obamacare is going to be like, just look at the VA system.”
It’s a travesty that Mr. Skipper’s situation exists at all. But instead of rectifying it, Washington has poured billions of dollars into a nationalized health care system that may well bring his pain to millions of other lives.
Those politicians should instead devote their efforts to fulfilling the promises they’ve made veterans. If they won’t do that, then the politicians who passed the Affordable Care Act should at least answer one simple question: If they can’t fix the VA, what right do they have to fix it for the rest of the nation? My brothers and sisters across the country and in Utah have the answer, if those politicians don’t.
Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America and an Army veteran of Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company