In 1999, veterans had to wait one year for hip replacement surgery in Michigan, one year for new dentures in Maine, and one year for a dermatology appointment in Louisiana.

In the years since, as money has tightened and more veterans have sought care, waiting time has increased.

We have what has been described as an “epidemic of increased waiting time and delays” for veterans seeking care from the Veterans Administration – waiting time and delays civilians don’t experience.

The VA was established to take care of veterans, to oversee and provide free or nearly-free services. The VA is supposed to benefit veterans, but it has become a burden to them instead.

It is shameful that a teenager can call and get a dermatology appointment in a week and a veteran has to wait a year. It is shameful that patients with private insurance can order dentures at will, but veterans have to wait a year. It is shameful that a businessman can get hip replacement surgery to relieve pain at his convenience, but a veteran has to endure discomfort and disability for a year.

Veterans have, under the care of the VA, become second class citizens.

We have to step back and objectively look at what this nation has done to veterans and evaluate how we treat them.

Veterans are supposed to get special care and are awarded special benefits, like education and burial allowances, because they performed a valued service for this nation. They are our protectors and we bestow them greater privileges than other federal employees.

But let’s face it. Veterans are retired federal employees. They were paid to do a job for this country, much like the Border Patrol, employees of the U.S. Mint, the folks at the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation highway workers, prison guards and secretaries at the State Department. But non-veteran federal employees aren’t subjected to long waits for medical care. The federal government provides a generous insurance plan for them to see civilian doctors, which means these employees get better care faster than veterans do.

In spite of all the impassioned demonstrations about how much we value veterans in the United States, we take better care of civilians than veterans. It’s disgraceful.

In the late 1990s, health care appropriations for veterans were flat funded. Last year appropriations were reduced, and reduced again this year. At the same time, more veterans are seeking medical care.

The VA has become the nation’s largest health care provider and it’s doing a really, really poor job. As many as 4,500 veterans are now waiting to see doctors in Maine, the number is in the hundreds of thousands nationwide and the VA medical care budget is short by billions of dollars.

When sick people wait for care, they just get sicker and it becomes more expensive to take care of them.

Forcing veterans to wait is costly in human terms and in real dollars.

Why not dismantle the VA medical direct care system and create a VA insurance plan? Veterans could be treated by civilian doctors and bill the VA the cost. It would be less expensive, waiting time would instantly decrease and health would improve. Don’t we owe veterans that much?

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