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Another Voice: VA hospitals focus on veterans' needs, not profits

By Chuck Leist

In your March 17 editorial, The Buffalo News suggested that the VA hospitals be privatized. It is obvious to anyone who has been served by a VA hospital that this writer has never been to a VA hospital as a patient or a volunteer. That writer has no idea how the VA functions when taking care of veterans.

I am a veteran of Vietnam and Desert Storm. I have Medicare, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield and Tricare for Life insurances. I pay nothing for medical care no matter where I get that care. What Medicare doesn’t pay, Blue Cross Blue Shield does, and if Blue Cross Blue Shield doesn’t cover the balance, Tricare for Life does. I get my health care from the Buffalo VA Medical Center because they furnish me with the best medical care I have ever received. If the VA cannot care for me properly, they refer me to someone who can, but that is a rare occurrence.

This last referral was to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center when I was diagnosed with several cancers, all related to my exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. For the cancer treatment I stayed with Roswell Park because they have a protocol that is supposed to keep me alive for eight years after the end of treatment.

The 200-pound WWII veteran who walked from Normandy to Berlin, or fought on the islands of the Pacific is now in his or her late 80s or 90s. They are at the end of their lives. Nursing homes no longer get paid by Medicare or Medicaid when there is no hope for improvement. These vets, then, are brought to the VA hospital. Some weigh less than 80 pounds and are so frail that even moving them causes pain.

The VA works on a classification system. People who will need treatment for the rest of their lives due to injuries – think missing limbs – are on the top of the list. There are six more layers of service until you get to the bottom, level eight. That level is for the soldier of modest income and whose only injury while in the service was insignificant. It would take that veteran years to get into the system, but those who secure a place in the system would get great care.

The war that Dick Cheney said was supposed to last “six days, six weeks … ” has gone on for 16 years, turning out more disabled veterans every day. No matter how often Congress complains about how much disabled veterans cost, Congress controls wars and war controls the number of disabled vets. The VA treats battlefield injuries better than anyone in civilian practice. The VA does not work on a profit mandate; they work on a quality mandate. A veteran at a VA hospital will get a holistic treatment based on their veterans needs, not the need for profit.

Chuck Leist of Buffalo is a veteran of the Vietnam War and Desert Storm.

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