At the VA, bureaucrats — not doctors — hold the scalpel

Staff at nine Veterans Affairs hospitals recently canceled more than 250,000 orders for diagnostic tests. They thought the orders were duplicative or unnecessary.

In many cases, they were mistaken. As a result, veterans went without needed CT scans, ultrasounds, and other potentially lifesaving tests, according to a USA Today investigation.

This is just the latest failure in the VA’s long history of denying care for veterans. Rolling out government-run health care nationwide, in the form of “Medicare for All,” would be an unmitigated disaster for patients.

The VA is infamous for providing, in many cases, substandard care. Consider a few recent horror stories.

In March, an internal investigation of the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C., revealed systemic faults and failures in leadership that “placed both patients and assets of the federal government at risk.” Some patients underwent anesthesia for unreasonably long times because the instruments needed for their surgery were unavailable after their operations had already begun.

The report found that the Center also overspent drastically. In one case, the VA rented three home hospital beds for roughly $875,000 that could have been bought outright for a little over $21,000. To provide care, the internal investigation found, doctors and nurses were forced to borrow equipment from other hospitals.

Last year, an Army vet filed a lawsuit alleging that a VA surgeon had left a scalpel inside his body during a surgery four years earlier. A veteran in Memphis had to have his leg amputated after doctors left 10 inches of plastic tubing used to ship catheters inside his body, according to internal documents unearthed by USA Today.

This year, the AP reported that a VA pathologist in Arkansas may have caused three deaths after allegedly treating patients while drunk. Investigators found more than 1,000 errors in his cases — 11 of which were significant enough to cause harm.

In February, a veteran living in Minnesota reached out for help using the VA crisis line and was told to visit his local VA emergency department. A Minneapolis mental health unit kept him under observation for four days and then discharged him. He was found dead less than 24 hours later in the parking lot of the Minneapolis VA hospital. He’d taken his own life.

An internal investigation revealed that the clinic did not follow protocols, including one that requires a clinician to assess a vet’s risk of suicide at the time of discharge.

In response to such failings, the Trump administration created a crisis hotline that veterans could call 24/7. Phones have been ringing off the hook. Since June 2017, there have been more than 100,000 calls.

It’s long past time to overhaul the VA. Patients should have much greater choice over where and how they receive medical care. Thankfully, Congress and the president have begun to take action. In June, President Trump signed the VA Mission Act, which expands veterans’ ability to see private doctors when VA facilities are unable to deliver timely care.

Such efforts will enable veterans to seek treatment from doctors who have a real incentive to provide high-quality care. If they don’t, patients won’t return.

VA providers, by contrast, have long had a captive audience. No matter how little effort or how many mistakes they make, they’re more likely than not to keep their jobs.

Despite the high-profile failings of the government-run VA, many progressives want to roll out government-run care for all Americans. Sixteen Senate Democrats have co-sponsored Sen. Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All legislation, which would outlaw private insurance coverage and force all Americans into a new one-size-fits-all government health plan. A House version of the legislation, which is supported by 60 percent of the chamber’s Democrats, would effectively ban providers from earning profits.

Veterans are suffering at the hands of a government-run healthcare system. We should be looking to extricate them from such a model — not foist it upon the entire country.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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