The (ideological) war at home…

You would imagine that the scandalous conditions at Walter Reed would be an indictment of incompetence, of misplaced prioirities, of past and proposed budget cuts, of the Army management, or of the current political leadership.

Not to some. In a short post, Steven Greenhut at the Orange Punch blog of the OC Register manages to make several leaps of logic: “Wonder why health care at Walter Reed is so horrible? Wonder why VA hospitals are so terrible? This is socialized health care in action. Coming to a hospital near you if our policy makers get their way.”

Where to begin?

First: what policy makers? There is no proposal on the table, in California or in Congress–including Senator Sheila Kuehl’s universal, single-payer proposal–that plans to takeover hospitals under government control, or to change the mix of public and private hospitals, or how they operate. The comment attacks a straw-man.

The folks at The Health Care Blog are actively discussing the news, with Maggie Mahar providing some useful context, as are Matthew Holt and John Irvine:

* Privatization may be one of the causes of the problem, according to an internal Army memo cited in a letter by California Rep. Henry Waxman: “the Army’s decision to privatize support services at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was causing an exodus of ‘highly skilled and experienced personnel,’” the committee’s letter states. “According to multiple sources, the decision to privatize support services at Walter Reed led to a precipitous drop in support personnel at Walter Reed.” The letter said Walter Reed also awarded a five-year, $120-million contract to IAP Worldwide Services, which is run by Al Neffgen, a former senior Halliburton official. (Irvine)

* Walter Reed is run by the Army, not the Veterans Administration, so it is unfair to lump them together, as many are attempting to do. (Mahar)

* Independent and private reviewers give the VA high grades, compared with private facilities:

+ BusinessWeek said, “if you want to be sure of top-notch care, join the military. The 154 hospitals and 875 clinics run by the Veterans Affairs Dept. have been ranked best-in-class by a number of independent groups on a broad range of measures, from chronic care to heart disease treatments to the percentage of members who receive flu shots. It offers all the same services, and sometimes more, than private sector providers.” (Mahar)

+ “A string of studies published in medical journals back up these claims. For the full story of the VA’s transformation. see Philip Longman’s “The Best Care Anywhere” in Washington Monthly, January 2007.” (Mahar)

+ “Those in the private sector appeared to be convinced by the turnaround in its clincal quality indicators. Or at least Managed Care Magazine has been fooled into thinking that…” (Holt)

The problems at Walter Reed need to be investigated and corrected, and it looks like that will be done now.

If this spurs a new effort at improving care for soldiers and veterans more broadly, even better. But let’s remember: there are things to improve in the Veterans Administration, but there’s things to learn from it as well.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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