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Treat them better: Bad medicine for veterans, military

June 30. 2014 7:46PM

As the Fourth of July nears, politicians won’t miss a chance to extol America’s history of democracy and freedom, a priceless heritage won and protected by our military. For that we applaud them all, Democrats and Republicans alike.

It is right and proper for them to participate in Independence Day celebrations and in events such as last Saturday’s tribute to Korean War veterans in Concord. At that emotional ceremony, Gov. Maggie Hassan acknowledged the debt still owed to those who served in that “forgotten war” by saying, “You carried the pain of the injuries you suffered, the memories of what you had endured and the belief that the very people you had protected did not fully appreciate your sacrifices.” The governor and the entire congressional delegation deserve praise for coming together to right that wrong.

But even during this week of patriotic celebration, citizens must demand more than inspirational words from leaders. There is no better time to ask hard questions about the federal government’s failure to ensure the quality of the health care it promises to our veterans, our active military and their families.

The Veterans Administration debacle remains an open wound. Oklahoma’s fine U.S. senator, Tom Coburn, uncovered evidence that the death toll from VA waste, incompetence and cover-ups in the past decade may exceed 1,000. The recent work by our state’s senators that may allow most New Hampshire veterans to receive medical care from providers outside a corrupt VA structure is a step in the right direction. But more answers and more action are needed now.

Last Sunday, an extensive investigation by the New York Times showed the problem of shoddy health care for those who serve and protect goes far beyond the VA. The Times reported that our busy military hospitals, which serve millions of Americans, are a health care system “in which scrutiny is sporadic and avoidable errors are chronic.”

Active-duty military and their families rely on these essential services. But the federal government does not bother to investigate scores of unexplained deaths. Babies are twice as likely to suffer injuries at birth in military hospitals than in civilian facilities. Some basic quality-of-care statistics are not kept. Others are covered up when convenient. Critical patient safety data was kept from reporters by classifying it as confidential.

Conservatives have long argued that the federal government would be an inept manager of civilian health care. Liberals disagree. But who can dispute the evidence that decades of government control have given us military and veterans health care that is deeply and dangerously flawed? These inept bureaucracies are killing people.

There is much to celebrate this week. Go to your local parade, wave your flag high and enjoy all the color and excitement of America’s signature holiday. But if you get a chance, talk to your U.S. senators and representatives or to their challengers. Tell them that America’s shoddy delivery of health care to veterans and active military is an unacceptable outrage, especially when we celebrate the freedoms they made possible.

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