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“Has Dr. Ben Finally Stepped In It?”: “We Don’t Need A Department Of Veterans Affairs”

In my TPMCafe column on Ben Carson earlier this week, I noted that he had been pretty vague on a lot of issues even as he had wrapped his extremist philosophy in dog whistles. That’s quite the successful formula, for a while at least, for a stealth wingnut with a powerful biography and a charming manner.

Could be, though, he’s just stepped in a great big cow patty, per Military Times‘ Leo Shane III:

Presidential hopeful Ben Carson’s comments suggesting the Veterans Affairs Department should be eliminated drew quick condemnation from multiple veterans groups, who called the idea short-sighted and ill-informed.

On a national radio show Thursday, Carson said that the country need to re-examine how it cares for veterans but also how to cut back on government bureaucracy.

“There is a lot of stuff we’re doing that doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “We don’t need a Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Affairs should be folded in under the Department of Defense.”

Carson said he wants to provide all veterans with health savings accounts to pay for private-sector medical care and reserve defense-run veterans clinics for highly specialized care, like traumatic brain injury treatment and limb replacements.

Ah, yes, the HSA pet rock. But it’s not a welcome idea to the quite conservative VFW:

“To suggest that disabled veterans could be sent out into the economy with a health savings account card overlooks the fact that civilian health care has waiting lists of their own … and presupposes that civilian doctors have the same skill sets as VA doctors, who see veterans of every age and malady every day,” VFW National Commander John Biedrzyck said in a statement.

“(VA) provides an irreplaceable service to the nation’s wounded, ill and injured veterans, and my organization will not let any candidate for any office suggest anything otherwise.”

Them’s fighting words, and other vet groups seem even less pleased:

In a lengthy online essay, Paralyzed Veterans of America Deputy Executive Director Sherman Gillums Jr. called the plan “a misguided notion born from ignorance of what each department does.”

“Those who insist ‘we don’t need a Department of Veterans Affairs’ are likely people who in fact do not need VA care because of good health or cannot access VA care due to ineligibility, as is the case with Dr. Carson,” he wrote.

“However, frustration in reaction to problems in VA combined with ignorance about what VA does and how it works are not the ingredients for a recipe of success where fixing the department is concerned.”

And here’s the thing: this involves the one issue area where Carson can’t say he’s still playing catch-up because he’s been off saving lives for decades. As a physician, health care policy is the one thing he definitely will be expected to “get.”

Politics aside, abolishing the VA health system to shunt veterans (or at least those not picked up by the DoD, which could create another whole set of problems) into the private system is pretty close to the opposite of what we should be doing. As WaMo’s own Phil Longman explained back in 2007, we ought to be making the rest of the health care system more like the VA. No, it’s not perfect; the eligibility system has problems, as well all know; but the actual care it provides at a limited cost remains the best available in the country. And Ben Carson ought to realize that.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 4, 2015

September 6, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Department of Veteran Affairs, Veterans | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Vets To Burr–You Clearly Represent The Worst Of Politics”: Quite Frankly Senator, You Should Be Ashamed

For Republicans, the politics of the VA scandal were pretty straightforward. All GOP officials had to do was express outrage – an emotion that spanned the partisan and ideological spectrum – and demand that the White House improve the system through which veterans receive care.

But Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, apparently couldn’t leave well enough alone.

The conservative Republican, who never served a day in the military, decided it’d be a good idea to start condemning veterans’ groups that had not yet called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. In an “open letter,” Burr argued that leading veterans’ organizations are less interested in helping those who served and “more interested in defending the status quo within V.A., protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the secretary and his inner circle.”

It’s hard to know what Burr was thinking. Perhaps the senator assumed he could pressure the veterans’ groups, bullying them into calling for Gen. Shinseki’s ouster. But if that was the Republican’s strategy, it became clear over the weekend that Burr’s gambit did not go according to plan.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans and the Paralyzed Veterans of America hit back hard. […]

The responses were unusually personal. Bill Lawson, the national president of the paralyzed veterans group, and Homer S. Townsend Jr., the executive director, criticized Mr. Burr for supporting the filibuster of the veterans bill in February, and said, “You clearly represent the worst of politics in this country.”

William A. Thien, the commander in chief of the V.F.W., and John E. Hamilton, the adjutant general, pointed to a staff with more than 47 combat deployments in Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan and four Purple Hearts, 16 Air Medals, Bronze Stars and other honors.

Responding to Burr’s attacks on its motives, the VFW added, “Senator, this is clearly one of the most dishonorable and grossly inappropriate acts that we’ve witnessed in more than forty years of involvement with the veteran community and breaches the standards of the United States Senate. Your allegations are ugly and mean-spirited in every sense of the words and are profoundly wrong, both logically and morally. Quite frankly Senator, you should be ashamed.”

One of the more striking aspects of Burr’s offensive is that it was entirely unprovoked. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans, and the Paralyzed Veterans of America have expressed ample criticism of the VA scandal, but because they hadn’t called for the resignation from Shinseki – himself a retired four-star general – the North Carolina Republican decided he was justified in publicly questioning their commitment to veterans’ issues.

And Burr did this, for reasons that make sense only to him, on Memorial Day weekend.

Look, I don’t imagine Republican senators are looking for my guidance, but here’s a tip: if you never served a day in the military and you recently filibustered a bill to expand VA health care access, tuition assistance, and job training, maybe you shouldn’t question the motivations of those who’ve devoted their careers to looking out of veterans.

Just throwing that out there.

As for Burr, instead of walking back his shots at the veterans’ groups and recognizing the fact that he went too far, the senator told the New York Times yesterday, “Clearly I hit a nerve. I think they’ve shown more outrage toward my open letter than outrage toward the current crisis at the V.A.”

In other words, the North Carolina Republican has decided he was right all along. We’ll see what happens, but I have a hunch he’s picking a fight against some men and women who don’t back down easily.

 

By:Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 27, 2014

May 27, 2014 Posted by | Veterans, Veterans Administration | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

   

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