Veterans health care panel will fight history and big hair

Gee Dubya, not content having himself surrounded by soldiers in photos, goes after the next generation of American fighting men and women.

Another blue ribbon panel. That is the answer — be it from Republicans or Democrats. When something goes wrong, appoint a blue ribbon panel. Which is what our Buffoon-in-chief has done in response to the uproar over poor medical facilities and treatment of our Iraq veterans.

The last blue ribbon panel — a.k.a. the Iraq Study Group — which was chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton was really a worthwhile venture wasn’t it George? Now a new panel headed by Bob “Viagra” Dole and Donna “Sha-la-la” Shalala will take on the task of studying veterans health care in both Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities. Good luck and good night!

Studying hospitals and clinics in just one department would surely be a nightmare, but both of them? Please give me a break.

Dole is an honorable man, a war hero and has tried to do right on a number of issues. Shalala? I’m sure she did some good in her cabinet post under Clinton and most likely her family and friends love her. But rarely does a presidentially-appointed blue ribbon panel cut through all the red tape to separate the wheat from chaff and the semaphores from the metaphors. And talk about red tape? Both agencies are full of some of the biggest red tape dispensers known to modern man.

My experience with VA health care is more recent than that with DoD. The quality of that care varies from hospital-to-hospital and VA health care system to VA health care system. Here is a little VA 101 and how its medical system is set up:

The VA has almost two dozen health care networks called VISNs (pronounced “vision,” as in lack of). VISN means Veterans Integrated Service Network. VA health care in Texas is provided by more than one VISN. The one in Southeast Texas includes Louisiana and I think Mississippi VA hospitals. Look it up if you are that interested. The VISN I dealt with in Waco and in Dallas includes health care systems (the next level of bureaucracy)in North, Central and South Texas. Within each system are hospitals and clinics.

Now one would think that the VA is the VA. With each hospital and clinic you get the same type of medical care and certainly the same kind of medicine, right? Not right. Each health care system has its own quirks, rules and even medicines. You had Soma prescribed in Waco? Well, you won’t get it in Houston or Beaumont. You were prescribed Lisinopril in Beaumont? Well, you won’t get it in Dallas.

Such a patchwork of medicine delivery is just one of the major obstacles such an investigatory panel faces. Each medical facility will also prove to be a big chunk which has been torn off and cannot be chewed.

When I last left Beaumont, the VA Clinic here was, quite frankly, quite awful. It was hard to get appointments, to get doctors to return your calls about medicine, etc., etc. Then I moved to Dallas for awhile. Once called the worst VA hospital in the country, I’m sure the Dallas VA Hospital is still in the running for that title. So many problems there exist that Bob Dole would probably enter it for investigation in good health and leave under the sheets. One example:

One day I had a medical condition of which I was unsure was an emergency and whet her it required immediate care. I was living in Allen then, about 40 miles from the Dallas VA hospital. Fortunately, my condition didn’t require emergency care. But no thanks to the VA either way. I spent an hour on its so-called “Tele-care” phone line where a nurse can be consulted about medical issues, supposedly. After an hour of getting no answer on the Tele-care line or recordings at the Dallas hospital, I finally asked for the hospital director’s office. I told the secretary what was going on and she promised to transfer me to the appropriate place right away. Which she didn’t that time. But once I called her back, I finally got the head nurse. Bless her heart, she did help me and even called to check on me later.

On a positive note, since I have moved back to Beaumont, the VA clinic seems like someone flew in and strafed the facility with a load of positivity. Service there is much better than the last time I used it.

The VA has got some great people and it has some people who aren’t worth a hail of bullets, just as you would expect from any large bureaucracy. The only difference with the VA is that hundreds of thousands of lives are in the hands of this bureaucracy and the system or “systems” need a good going over. The VA also is in need of dedicated funding rather than by discretionary funds at the whim of Congress. And, we need to get our men and women out of Iraq as soon as possible so we don’t have so many new veterans to treat. Things are bad enough with dying World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans.

If the blue ribbon panel is really going to do a fine-tooth-comb job on the military and VA health care, then I say: “Right on!” But history just isn’t on Bob’s and Donna’s side, and I just don’t think they will ever find a big enough comb.

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