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Taking the Administration out of veterans' affairs (and everyone else's)

Thinking it Through

F or years private American citizens have formed organizations and solicited contributions to provide services to our returning military veterans, physically and psychically wounded from the wars they have volunteered for. Millions, me included, have been moved to help as much and as broadly as possible.

Meanwhile, complaints have mushroomed against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency of the government charged with the responsibility of caring for men and women who have sacrificed so much in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the VA is reportedly years behind in coming to their aid. While the rage against bureaucratic sloth is understandable, perhaps it is better to face the fact that, despite doubtless sincere assurances from the VA, private citizens can do a better job than the government.

The first stirring in my mind of this conclusion derives from the simultaneous existence of VA incompetence and admirable private initiative. I have been aware of both for a long time, but finally it dawned on me: the reason that Paralyzed Veterans of America, The USO, Soldiers’ Angels, Help Hospitalized Veterans, AdoptAPlatoon, Wounded Warrior Project, Feed Our Vets and other groups that I am not aware of are active is precisely because the VA has failed.

The way one organization put it in its 2010 report “Failure to Provide” was that the “Veterans Administration has a long record of negligence, inefficiency and failure, its services burdened by reopened cases and the war on terror.” Nearly three years ago VA decided to reexamine the rejected claims of veterans purportedly suffering from “Gulf War syndrome.” Although these cases were closed nearly two decades ago, reopening them was the first move toward providing compensation to as many as 210,000 veterans for this illness, whose origin remains uncertain in spite of the $340 million put into research.

At the time, the report divulged “the historical precedent of inefficiency and negligence that has plagued the VA since its genesis.” Independent Institute Research Fellow Ronald Hamowy, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Alberta, concluded that because the VA is a public organization, the health care provided by its facilities has always lagged behind the standards of private medical institutions. Additionally, he finds that the VA “was a giant first step in undermining the notion of private responsibility for one’s medical treatment.”

While most Americans are currently focused on the failures of the deceitfully named Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act (ACPPA) that is depriving millions of the medical insurance that they preferred and could afford, the VA’s troubles remind us that the problems of ObamaCare are only more egregious but not untypical of the administrative state to which Democrats have been devoted for 100 years.

The President’s signature legislative achievement is only the latest, although it may well be the worst, example of the error of relying upon government to do what private citizens invariably do better. We have massive debt topping $17 trillion, impending shortfalls with Social Security and Medicare, a massive increase in public dependency in the form of food stamps and disability (not to mention, unemployment insurance), and a military which is being drawn down to save favored domestic programs.

Because the VA is failing to provide for the needs of those whom the rest of us admire and respect, not only have private citizens stepped up to help out but the VA probably will not long be permitted to bumble along forever. But the claims to public support by other government agencies and programs are no less vulnerable, if only we can counter the dishonest tactics of Big Government’s water carriers.

It all comes down to shaming critics. Brandishing their supposedly good intentions, Democrats and their allies in the media, academia and clergy repeatedly brush aside evidence that the bureaucratic state has failed with the broad brush of alleged “insensitivity” and “selfishness.” With Barack Obama’s historic election as the first black President, the charge of racism has been added. And now that the lies that have characterized this administration have become painfully obvious to more Americans than who voted for Mitt Romney, its shills decry the alarming outbreak of bad manners of people who speak the truth.

Critics must be shamed because the overweening State cannot be defended on its merits. Americans, more so than any other people, have demonstrated that free men and women are more able to provide for our needs and wants than those whom we choose to govern us.
The best Christmas present we can give to ourselves this year is to begin the long, slow but necessary process of dismantling government programs that exceed the Constitution’s few and limited powers and return them to the states or to the people, where the authors of the Tenth Amendment knew they belonged.

Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of "Taking Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at rhreeb@verizon.net


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