Wayne's Words: Searching for the ‘fix’

Wayne Horne | 8/5/2016, 5 a.m.
Veterans and their families have been in the media spotlight as a result of the recent conventions of the two ...

Veterans and their families have been in the media spotlight as a result of the recent conventions of the two parties. With a national election season in full bloom, veteran issues make for good political theater.

National defense and the economy are most often the focus of presidential and congressional campaigns because they directly impact most of us one way or another.

The 114th Congress has 101 members (18.7 percent) who have served or are currently serving in the military, according to the Congressional Research Service. Veterans now comprise about 9 percent of the U.S. population. Following the Vietnam War, about 70 percent of congressional members were veterans. Respect for military service is much greater today than it was 45 years ago. There are currently about 22 million veterans in the U. S.

It would seem no political campaign is complete without a contingent of veterans in the background. This political season, candidates have all expressed a desire to “fix” the veterans’ health care system.

Approximately 9 million veterans utilize the Veteran Benefits Administration system. About 6 million use the VA for health care. It isn’t just visits for checkups and illnesses. Other benefits include eye exams, including glasses and hearing exams that include hearing aids if warranted. Pharmacy benefits, usually with a small copayment per prescription, are also a major component of VA health care benefits.

All VA health benefits come at little or no cost to the veteran. Waiting periods can sometimes be excessive, but usually not, at least not in this area. What will “fix” the waiting period dilemma in other areas of the country where it is a problem? More qualified personnel and facilities that are more accessible to veterans. But that costs money and respect for military service seems to end where budget talks begin.

Vietnam veterans currently make up the largest group using VA health care benefits. Most Vietnam vets are eligible for Medicare and don’t take advantage of the VA system because of a lack of information regarding those benefits. Interestingly, the two systems are not integrated. Veterans can use both at the same time, but it is not usually coordinated care. Most vets use one or the other.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is suggesting a fix that would privatize VA health care. All national veteran organizations oppose such a system as it does not guarantee quality care that can be monitored.

Rather than wringing hands over cost and waste within the current VA structure, why not coordinate the Medicare and VA systems? This would assure quality care that is manageable for the provider and the veteran. Also, veterans should be automatically enrolled in the VA pharmacy program regardless of age. The VA has negotiated a prescription program that is less costly than what’s available in the private sector. The same should be true for eye exams and glasses. Include hearing benefits in the mix and now you’ve got something. The cost of hearing aids in the private sector can exceed $5,000.

Yes, veterans are an important prop in political circles and most veterans accept that, provided the president and congress make good on their promises to “fix” the system. I know (and here’s the disclaimer) because I am a vet. Stay tuned…

Contact Wayne at wayneswords@thetimesweekly.com