Editor’s note: The following is a continuation of Thomas Crisp’s column that ran in The Newberry Observer on May 28.
“Our PACTs outcomes to date support VA’s ongoing health care transition to a health system focused on a personalized approach to care. We seek to help every Veteran achieve his or her unique health goals.” said Dr. Robert A. Petzel, VA’s Under Secretary for Health. Refer to www.va.gov/health/services/primarycare and http://www.montana.va.gov/features/VA_PACT_Puts_Veterans_at_Center_of_Health_Care_Decisions_and_Planning.asp for additional info on PACT.
A veterans group has been formed to eliminate the Veterans Administration (VA), accusing the VA of being a “medical gulag system.” The group, Veterans Against the Veterans Administration (VAVA) was formed prior to the current scandals engulfing the VA in Phoenix, Ohio, and Florida. The group’s plan calls for all veterans to receive insurance under President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act, for American tech giants Apple, Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo to work with private insurance companies to create an efficient compensation apparatus, and for all education benefits to be handled by the colleges and universities instead of the VA. The VAVA cites a shockingly prophetic 1995 column by the late New York Times columnist William Safire entitled “This Dinosaur Must Die Soon” as validating its position (http://www.spokesman.com/stories/1995/jan/14/this-dinosaur-must-die-soon/).
According to the VAVA’s data, the changes would end all delays in veterans receiving proper healthcare, compensation, and end the epidemic of patient deaths throughout America. Media reports reveal that the VA has paid out over $200 million to settle 1,000 wrongful death allegations (http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2014/04/02/VA-veteran-wrongful-death-payments). The group’s founder warned US Senators Carl Levin and Richard Burr of the danger posed to veterans by VA hospitals beginning in the 1990’s. The VAVA alleges that Congress has a double standard when it comes to private corporations accused of wrong doing versus the VA and other government agencies. The VAVA specifically cites the harsh treatment of General Motors (GM) CEO Mary Barra by Congress concerning 13 deaths linked to a faulty ignition over a 10 year period. The VAVA asserts that three times as many deaths of veterans occur daily as did in the entire GM issue, solely due to the VA. The VAVA alleges that VA chiefs such as Secretary Eric Shinseki and VA administrators have been given a pass for decades by Congress.
The group estimates that the entire $160 billion budget of the VA can be eliminated by replacing the compensation system with buy outs and private insurance. The VAVA opposes any attempts to reform the VA, likening the effort to attempting to “turn a typewriter into an IPAD”. The VAVA states its mantra is defined by the question, “If the VA medical model is so good, why doesn’t the Mayo Clinic, Henry Ford Health System, or Johns Hopkins use it?” The VAVA asserts that any private hospital system that followed the VA system would be sued out of business in short order and shut down by government regulators. The VAVA charges that VA as a “bureaucratic welfare racket” rather than medical health system. The VAVA asserts that organizations such as the America Legion and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America are part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
The VAVA also notes that the VA has not properly warned veterans of health threats that exist due to their service in the Desert wars, such as a lethal allergy to bed bugs. The allergy has been verified by one of America’s top immunologist located in South Carolina. The VAVA is calling on Congress to immediately provide private mental healthcare to veterans, due to the threat posed by untreated veterans to civilians and other soldiers. The group cites Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s murder, the DC Naval shipyard and Ft. Hood shootings as evidence of the need for urgency in this area to avoid Columbine and Newtown like incidents involving veterans. The VAVA will present its recommendations and personal accounts of VA incompetency. This includes the tale of the lifesaving treatment the VAVA’s founder received at Mt. Sanai hospital in Miami due to the VA’s refusal to provide such care.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on April 30 used his position as chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to press for expanded veterans’ access to treatments such as acupuncture, yoga, meditation and animal-assisted therapy for chronic pain. In a hearing on overmedication at the Veterans Affairs and the Defense departments, Sanders, a longtime admirer of complementary and alternative medical treatments, said VA must do more to reduce its doctors’ reliance on prescriptions to treat pain. “For many veterans, chronic pain is a part of their daily life…options for managing chronic pain are paramount to improving their quality of life,” Sanders said. According to Pentagon data, about a quarter of active-duty personnel received a prescription for an opiate-based painkiller in 2013. At VA, about half of patients with chronic pain are prescribed opioids such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet.
In the past five years, both VA and DoD have moved to reduce the number of potentially addictive prescriptions. A DoD task force in 2010 released a comprehensive pain management plan for physicians, and the Pentagon has cut the percentage of active-duty troops receiving opiates from 26 percent in 2011 to 24 percent last year. And VA in April launched a department wide Opioid Safety Initiative focused on patient education, prescription monitoring and emphasis on complementary and alternative practices. According to VA, the program already is seeing success, reducing the number of VA patients receiv-ingopiatesinthepast18monthsby 50,000, said VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel. The long-term use of highly addictive opioids pain medications can lead to chronic abuse, overdose and accidental death if taken in conjunction with other medications.
In the hearing, Sanders said alternatives should be considered before prescribing these drugs. The program on which VA’s OSI effort is modeled uses a comprehensive approach that includes acupuncture, relaxation, meditation, tai chi and aromatherapy along with traditional psychotherapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) cited the case of a veteran prescribed medication for chronic pain because it was inexpensive and expedient. “Is this the ‘veteran-centric’ care we constantly hear VA describing? When it comes to the care we are providing to those who have sacrificed so much … we can’t afford to get it wrong,” Burr said. Sanders introduced legislation earlier this year that would require VA to expand access to alternative treatments. The bill failed on a procedural vote, but Sanders has pledged to try again this year.