Recently, a colleague discovered he had kidney stones. He was diagnosed on a Sunday. On Wednesday doctors tried unsuccessfully to break them up with sound waves. On Thursday they used lasers. Because of complications, the doctors had to put in a stent and wait a week before finally breaking up the stones seven days later.
Compare that with the experience an Iraq/Afghanistan war vet had in 2003. He waited six weeks to have his kidney stone removed at a VA hospital. No stent. No speedy, state-of-the-art procedures. Just week after week of extreme pain.
The difference? The first man had private health insurance, while the other depended on a government-run, single-payer health system. Socialized health care doesn’t work, and the VA system proves that.
Last year, for example, The Washington Post featured a series about the failures of the VA system. At the Walter Reed medical complex, “signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses,” reported Dana Priest and Anne Hull. Outpatients, they wrote, often “encounter a messy bureaucratic battlefield nearly as chaotic as the real battlefields they faced overseas.”
This is distressing; our vets deserve the best possible care. But it’s hardly surprising. The government can’t efficiently run a railroad (Amtrak loses billions each year) or guarantee safe roads and bridges (I-35W). Why would we expect it to be able to operate hospitals?
Besides, we already know the single-payer model used by the VA doesn’t work. Our allies Canada and Britain both have nationalized health care systems, and both are infamous for their poor care and long waiting lists. It’s folly to expect a process that fails everywhere else in the world to somehow, magically, succeed here.
This isn’t to say that our military medical professionals don’t excel. On the contrary -- the military boasts the world’s most skilled doctors and nurses, and they’re doing a marvelous job helping vets survive and recover.
The survival rate for warriors wounded in Iraq is 90 percent, better than any earlier war and a full 10 percentage points higher than the survival rate in the 1991 Gulf War. But the problem is administration. Wounded vets often find themselves tied up in red tape. “We don’t know what to do,” Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves told the Post. “The people who are supposed to know don’t have the answers. It’s a nonstop process of stalling.”