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Tilting at Windmills

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October 17, 2010

WHEN DID THE V.A. BECOME SUCH A FAR-RIGHT TARGET?.... During a debate between Nevada's U.S. Senate candidates this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) noted that Sharron Angle has raised the specter of privatizing the Veterans' Administration.

Rush Limbaugh loves the idea, and has no idea why Reid would consider that criticism.

"What is wrong with privatizing the VA? What's wrong with privatizing? Somebody tell me where it's working!"

This is the second time I've heard this from the far-right recently. Just a couple of weeks ago, extremist Senate candidate Ken Buck (R) of Colorado made a similar case:

"Would a Veterans Administration hospital that is run by the private sector be better run then by the public sector? In my view, yes."

I'm not sure why the right decided to launch this anti-VA nonsense, but so long as conservatives are pushing this line, it's worth setting the record straight.

For the Washington Monthly, this has been a long-time area of interest. In 2005, we published a Philip Longman piece on V.A. hospitals called, "The Best Care Anywhere."

As Longman explained at the time, "Who do you think receives higher-quality health care. Medicare patients who are free to pick their own doctors and specialists? Or aging veterans stuck in those presumably filthy VA hospitals with their antiquated equipment, uncaring administrators, and incompetent staff? An answer came in 2003, when the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine published a study that compared veterans health facilities on 11 measures of quality with fee-for-service Medicare. On all 11 measures, the quality of care in veterans facilities proved to be 'significantly better.' ... The Annals of Internal Medicine recently published a study that compared veterans health facilities with commercial managed-care systems in their treatment of diabetes patients. In seven out of seven measures of quality, the VA provided better care."

Yes, the taxpayer-financed, government-run VA hospitals are some of the finest medical facilities in the country. Limbaugh and Buck think they'd be better off being privatized, but that's largely because they're popping off on a subject they don't understand.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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Limbaugh and Buck think they'd be better off being privatized, but that's largely because they're popping off on a subject they don't understand.

Isn't that their default behavior?

Posted by: Mike on October 17, 2010 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Well the military, and I would guess veterans as well, vote Republican, so I say let the GOP privatize the VA. Let this be one more illustration of why people should consider the consequence of their vote.

Posted by: SaintZak on October 17, 2010 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

Limbaugh and Buck think they'd be better off being privatized, but that's largely because they're popping off on a subject they don't understand.

True, they don't know what they're talking about, but a misunderstanding of the quality of care doesn't underlie their views. Privatization is an end in itself regardless.

Posted by: Dan on October 17, 2010 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

They understand perfectly. America has a limited form of socialized medicine and they are scared to death of it. So, they use a decades old reputation for extremely bad care and try to scare people with it.

Many middle aged Americans remember their fathers' VA, which was a disaster. I remember once, back in the early 1980s, when I was working a continuing medical education conference and there was a presentation on some new procedure, the presenter mentioned that they initially had a grant to try the new procedure at a VA hospital in Salt Lake City and after successful trials they got another grant to try it out on "real patients". My wife worked for the VA for three years back about the same time and she confirmed all the worst.

So, if our side is going to point to the VA as proof that socialized medicine can work, they will try to scare people away with ancient memories of a dysfunctional snake pit where geriatric alcoholics went to die. Because that's all they have to work with, fear and resentment.

Posted by: majun on October 17, 2010 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK


Our Veterans deserve the best care possible, I don't care if many of them vote Republican or not. We are all Americans.

Posted by: Ron Byers on October 17, 2010 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

What Saint Zak said. And while we're at it, turn over Medicare to Paul Ryan. Let's voucherize the entitlement program GOP geezers depend on. They'll find out in a hurry just how rugged individualism can be.

Posted by: walt on October 17, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

The sanctity of service is an unknown to the privatizers among us!

In their frenzy to promote the private over the public they neglect to ask themselves a question - who are their protectors of all that they find dear, and what do we as a public owe those protectors as a result?

Surely, the answer will never be to privatize, as we owe our men and women in uniform the care they will need the rest of their lives, with whatever collection of public resources it takes as the minimum gesture of honor for their service and sacrifice!

Any talk of privatizing the VA is a certain sign of unAmerican activity! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on October 17, 2010 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

As a 100% disabled veteran and a member of the system for over 13 years, I have received nothing but the best of care from the VA. Until this year.

Someone, somewhere, in their infinite wisdom, made the decision to build a new VAMC in Orlando, Florida, scheduled to be completed sometime in 2013.

Unfortunately, someone else, in their lack of wisdom, decided to go ahead and transfer the care of thousands and thousands of VA patients under the Gainesville VAMC to the Orlando system as of 2010.

The resultant fiasco has decreased service across the board to all veterans served by the Orlando system, poor care, missed appointments, months-long waits, rude overworked employees and above all, frustration on the part of the veteran and the staffs at satellite clinics throughout Central Florida.

In this one case, the old-style bureaucrats and bean counters at the VA made a sad and disheartening mistake.

Posted by: Howey on October 17, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

"Limbaugh and Buck think they'd be better off being privatized, but that's largely because they're popping off on a subject they don't understand."

"Isn't that their default behavior?"

It's also the default behavior of the willfully and proudly ignorant GOP base who provides their most reliable voting bloc. I live and work among this crowd. It's exactly the kind of dumbassery I hear every week at work, at the local watering hole, and watching the game with my friends and family.

Posted by: bikelib on October 17, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

I forgot to add - @StZak:

This veteran, as well as many others (including active duty), is a progressive Liberal so kindly keep your judgements to yourself.

I still stand by the care I receive through the VA, warts and all.

Posted by: Howey on October 17, 2010 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

It's interesting these assholes want to privatize all govt services because they say that they'll be cheaper and better. I don't remmember the name of the studies I saw but they showed that there seldom cheaper and almost never better. Common sense has to tell you anything the govt does that you privatize is going to be more expensive because the govt doesn't need to make a profit and the private entity does.

Posted by: Gandalf on October 17, 2010 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Just one more example in the wall of the efficacy of mob inspired reasoning compared "stupid" logic and results , or meritocratic oriented government , versus Droit de seigneur . Ha ha ha , idiocy today , tomorrow self mutilation .

Posted by: FRP on October 17, 2010 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

How would Rush know anything about the military?

Posted by: g on October 17, 2010 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

"Limbaugh and Buck think they'd be better off being privatized, but that's largely because they're popping off on a subject they don't understand."
—Steve Benen 10:30 AM

Well of course they don't understand anything about the VA, or anything else affiliated with our military, because, like so many Publicans, teabeggars, and conservatards, they've never served.
As with most of their ilk, they're happy to luxuriate under the benefit of the security provided for them by those who do.
They're also, of course, happy to vote for "leaders," parties, and policies that work against the interests of those who serve, even as they lionize them. That's what Publicans do to all Americans (who aren't part of the rentier class); why should they be any different when it comes to our vets?
And what Ron Byers and Kevo said above, yes. We owe a debt to those who serve / have served. They deserve nothing less than the best -- especially when it comes to their health care. If any individual vets want to opt out of their VA, I have no problem letting them do so. (I suspect most would realize the truth before too long.) But for those who do want it to be there, it must remain untouched, un-budget-cut, and out of the hands of the corporate war profiteers who are the worst traitors of all.

Posted by: smartalek on October 17, 2010 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Howey I stand by my comment. It's well known that the military vote goes largely Republican. I don't care who it is. People need to realize the consequence of their vote. "You" want to vote these people in for whatever reason? Great swallow the consequence whole. All of these old people on a rampage about socialized medicine and entitlement? I say to them, vote Republican and I hope Medicare and social Security go straight to hell. Live with the consequence of your vote.

Howey you may be progressive, but its no secret that the military and veterans are a largely conservative demographic. I stand by my statement: let them vote these people into office and live the the results.

Posted by: SaintZak on October 17, 2010 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

The existence of ANY successful government program is a threat to the plutocrats Limbaugh whores for; government as an institution must be completely discredited.

Their goal is a Mad Maxian dystopia where they own all the resources and can charge the rest of us whatever they want for the most basic services.

To this end, they use all their resources -- radio, television, internet -- to encourage nihilism, division, resentment and ultimately, anarchy.

Ten years ago, this would have sounded like over-the-top, tinfoil-hat madness. Nowadays, I feel downright cautious in my predictions.

Posted by: Gummo on October 17, 2010 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

When we say we want only the best care for our veterans, we're also saying others don't deserve the best. Indeed, Republicans might say that some shouldn't get any care at all. This is simply an untenable proposition in a genuine social democracy. Yes, keep the VA top notch. No, don't divide Americans against one another because that ultimately serves just another vile GOP talking point. We all deserve the best care.

Posted by: walt on October 17, 2010 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

This isn't about the VA, any more than the attacks on gays, illegals, or marry jew wanna.

All are simply targets of opportunity for the Right to attack as examples of the dreaded Other.

Peel back their ideology of privatization and rugged individuality, and find their core belief: "Get Elected. Stay Elected. Steal the money. Retire rich."

Posted by: DAY on October 17, 2010 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Everything private is better than anything public, and so long as one of us, somewhere, is covered by a collective bargaining agreement, none of us, anywhere, is truly free.

Posted by: Ronald Reagan on October 17, 2010 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

"I'm not sure why the right decided to launch this anti-VA nonsense...Who do you think receives higher-quality health care..."

If your not sure why you should be. Conservatives know perfectly well the VA delivers higher-quality health care -- that is why they want to destroy it. It is a good counterexample to their "private is always better, government can do nothing right" mantra and it cedes both power and potential profit to the government.

Don't act surprised.

Posted by: patrick II on October 17, 2010 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Patrick II: Steve's whole schtick is based on acting "surprised" by these "confused" and "misinformed" GOP jackasses. It gets old after awhile.

Posted by: bikelib on October 17, 2010 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

Walt and Howie have bought into the GOP propagated myth that the military is republican. It is true that the officer corps trends about 60-40 in favor of republicans, but that is to be expected. They are the white collar managers, the same people who vote republican in civilian life. But most of the military is made up of enlisted personnel and they are no more or less republican than the general population they come from. In fact, they may even trend Democratic given the fact that traditional Democratic constituencies (African Americans and Hispanics) are a greater percentage of the military than they represent in the population at large. Remember, in 2008, Obama outraised McCain among active duty military personnel making donations to the presidential campaigns by a margin of 6:1.

Posted by: Blue Girl on October 17, 2010 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

The modern conservative, one who isn't just a clueless lemming is, a grifter. The lack of understanding lies elsewhere.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on October 17, 2010 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Blue Girl, I'm a veteran myself and quite thankful for the benefits I've gotten through the VA. Obviously, I'm being a little mordant about popular opinions here (i.e., government programs are all terrible, wasteful, and ineptly run). But given the right-wing media domination here, we might as well concede they've won the hearts and minds of many if not most voters. Do I REALLY think the VA will be privatized (and Medicare voucherized)? No. But it's a useful threat to contemplate. Liberalism is the devil for many people who really need liberalism to survive. I'm not sure how else you wake them up but short of a snowy trip to Bedford Falls, I'm guessing right-wing political success will do the trick.

Posted by: walt on October 17, 2010 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

I want to see America privatize her fire departments.
I really enjoyed watching that Tennessee Teabagger's house burn.
It was hilarious for us over here in Europe.
More of that please...

Posted by: Euro Socialist on October 17, 2010 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

In addition to the two studies cited in the column, people always forget that the private and non-partisan Joint Commission on Accredidation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), which issues a "Best Healthcare Delivery System" of the year title annually, has TWICE named the VA the single best healthcare system in the US, beating out the Mayo Clinics, UCLA Medical, and any other healthcare provider in the U.S.!

Posted by: Zoomie on October 17, 2010 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

...that's largely because they're popping off on a subject they don't understand.

while true, their spouting has nothing to do with providing better services at less cost. republicans/conservatives want to out source all government services from the military, to schools, to prisons, to medical services, to social security, etc. for one reason and one reason only: so their plutocrat brethren can slop at the taxpayer gold mine.

In EVERY case the government does as good or BETTER job of providing services than private entities.

So get this straight: the republican/conservative meme to out-source government has NOTHING to do with providing better services for less cost. It has EVERYTHING to do with plutocrats raping the American tax payer.

Posted by: pluege on October 17, 2010 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, Rush and the gang understand exactly what they're saying - here's their view:

Currently, the VA is run by the government, which means that it is all wasted on caring for veterans. None of that government money can be donated to Republican political campaigns. How wasteful! By privatizing the VA, no-bid contracts can be awarded (at substantially higher cost to the taxpayers) to well-connected Republican-friendly bidders. Those government contractors can then pay "competitive" salaries to their top officers, and spend the rest of the money on campaign donations to Republicans and their political pals.

Thus, all that money currently being wasted (in Republicans' eyes) on providing health care to veterans could be put to much better use by buying ads on Rush's radio show!

Posted by: RepubAnon on October 17, 2010 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

The VA hospital system is a target because it is an example of a successful government run enterprise. There fore it must be discredited. This is SOP for these guys.

Posted by: AK Liberal on October 17, 2010 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK


"It's interesting these assholes want to privatize all govt services because they say that they'll be cheaper and better. I don't remmember the name of the studies I saw but they showed that there seldom cheaper and almost never better. Common sense has to tell you anything the govt does that you privatize is going to be more expensive because the govt doesn't need to make a profit and the private entity does."

Absolutely! I grew up in a conservative Republican household (I often describe myself as a "recovering Republican"). In a smallish town also filled with conservative Republicans. For them, it's definitely an article of faith that private is ALWAYS superior to government. Many of these people believe that the only reason anyone works or tries to do better is money. So the fact that governmental organizations do not operate with the profit motive means that they have no reason to work well and efficiently, and thus must be lazy and inefficient. Unfortunately there are some government bureaucrats who ARE lazy or welded to some arcane and silly rules, enough to give all of them a bad name. But the conservatives also ignore all incidences of good service received.

A close friend of mine spent about 4 months last year in the Tucson VA being treated for throat cancer. I'm happy to report that he is currently in remission. He received top-notch care. There were occasional glitches, people being human, but overall his care was excellent. I know of other people who also received excellent care there.

Unfortunately, the returning vets will have to struggle to get into the VA system. The government has historically tried to deny vets their care, claiming that their health problems are not service-oriented. Something needs to be done to make it easier for returning vets to get the health care to which they are entitled.

Posted by: Wolfdaughter on October 17, 2010 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

they're popping off on a subject they don't understand.

Oh, I think they understand exactly what they're saying.

Their purpose is to cause as much hurt and injury as they can while cultivating resentment.

Posted by: cld on October 17, 2010 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

The VA here in Illinois provided care for my father through the last 30 years of his life. Great care, wonderfully dedicated people. Love those folks.

Posted by: Wes on October 17, 2010 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

"What is wrong with privatizing the VA? What's wrong with privatizing? Somebody tell me where it's working!"

I think he's absolutely right, we should privatize the V.A., along with all the rest of the military, and why not the government as well. The best that money can buy!

Oh, wait....


Posted by: Bruce B on October 17, 2010 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

Both of them are among the many right wing "patriots" who failed to demonstrate their "patriotism" by putting on a uniform. Typical.

Posted by: TCinLA on October 17, 2010 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

St Zack: since you obviously have your head up your ass, shut the fuck up, you ignorant moron.

BTW - when did you serve, little boy???

Proud to be a flaming lefty and a veteran

Posted by: TCinLA on October 17, 2010 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

"Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains. I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
-Thomas Jefferson

The privatization "merchants" never do change, do they?

Posted by: The Oracle on October 17, 2010 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

While we're on the subject of privatized medical programs that were formerly socialized, let me give you Walter Reed hospital. When it was run by the government, it was a top notch institution. Once it was privatized, it went to hell. Limbaugh, Angle and Buck surely are aware of this, but they are willing to sacrifice our veterans to their dogma. What does that say about their support for our troops?

Posted by: Texas Aggie on October 18, 2010 at 12:14 AM | PERMALINK

This is nothing more than the continued demonization of fed employees. Privatization of IRS debt collection from 2003 failed and was not renewed by the IRS last year. Studies showed it was not cost effective. As a retired USPS employee, I heard calls for privatization my entire career, so this is something old and will go the wayside.


Posted by: flyonthewall on October 18, 2010 at 2:28 AM | PERMALINK

From the perspective of those civilian medical professionals who work in the VA system, there's a fundamental stability and lack of administrative burden when compared to the private sector.

Yes, there's bureaucracy in the system, but there's no massive billing department, no insurance wrangling, no financial targets based upon the most profitable services.

One of the largest branches of VA healthcare is mental health, and that provision has grown hugely thanks to the PTSD repercussions of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. For comparison's sake, if you look at the privatization of state mental health services over the last couple of decades, the experiments range from failure to massive failure.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc on October 18, 2010 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans are automatically assuming that anything the government runs is bad and haven't bothered to find out anything about the VA specifically.

Government run=bad
VA=government run

Posted by: ET on October 18, 2010 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Gandalf, You are absolutely right.

There is nothing the government can do, good or bad, that the private sector won't do worse.

They will always do worse because they ALWAYS look for ways to cut costs, but they will keep looking for more money because they see the well as bottomless. It is bottomless for them because it is a taxpayers well. Everything will cost more now that the government is paying. Whining and sniveling about costs today because it takes away from what they want to steal from the tax coffers and they don't want any of that money going to the taxpayers. Republicant's complain of costs until they are in charge (think of the war in Iraq) Remember the $1,000 hammers?? The only REAL interest republicans have in PRIVATIZING anything, is the bottomless taxpayers well that goes into their business's. Then they just keep asking for more & more money & giving less & less. You will notice that a democrat NEVER owns a company that gets a government contract the likes of the contracts, Haliburtin & Blackwater have. Like education, they don't want any money going to that so they can 'privatize' schools. Who wants kids going to state Universities when they can go to some OVER PRICED PRIVATE, Art Institute or High Tech Institute or University of Phoenix. One of which is majority owned by the crooks, Goldman Sachs. Then a little predatory lending for those student loans, from your friendly bailed out bank, or course they are republicants. All tied together to take as much wealth away from Americans as humanly possible, they are redistributing as much wealth as possible from Americas pockets into the Republican elite of America.

Its all lies made up by republicants.

Posted by: Alison on October 29, 2010 at 3:23 AM | PERMALINK

Forgot to mention to all you crybaby bedcwetter teabaggers who whine and snivel about spending, when they cant even count let alone understand economics. When the republicants say less government, they mean less everything so they can privatize. When they privatize, there goes a LOT of government jobs, is one of them yours????? When your job goes over to privatized sector, you will have the same job but NO BENEFITS, NO HEALTH INSURANCE, NO RETIREMENT, NO UNION, NO RAISES, NO NOTHING. Keep voting AGAINST your best interest you stupid tea baggers. Go have your movement.

Posted by: Alison on October 29, 2010 at 3:46 AM | PERMALINK

Lets see, we have these;


My Dr friends say they are the best,
Looks like Wes, Texas Aggie & many
others say the same

An insurance program that the
federal government as successfully
run since its inception in the 1930s,
I believe. I thought the government
couldnt run an insurance system?

A Federal Home Loan Program to
insure home loans, run by the
federal government, successfully for
decades, like the VA insurance.


Supplemental retirement funds,
seems to be working, I know of
only one person, who has tried
to give it back or who did not
want or need it. So why all the
complaints & yap about changing
it? It sounds socialized though.

I'd like to hear the tea baggers
screaming and wailing if anyone tries
to take this away. It's socialized
you know.

I know you would scream and cry if
this was gone because then you would
only have the FOR PROFIT carriers to
choose from boo hoo. But this package
carrier that runs with competition
from for profit carriers that seem to
seem to manage just fine together,
for now.

These are all successful government programs, even socialist if you will. I am sure all you tea baggger cry babies would have a fit if any one of them were gone. If you DO NOT want them gone, you better think about who you are voting for and stop voting for the republican crooks and the tea bagggers are crooks just like the Republicants.

Like some one else said, these programs are all just targets of opportunity for the repukes, just a way to steal the tax dollars. I bet you don't know about the banks do you?? The banks and insurance companies are one and the same and we support them with massivly subsidized funding, it isn't even loans.

Were do we start? How about the bail
outs. I bet you are only thinking
about the big one in 2008 right?
How well did they work? First they
stole the money for bonus's and
did not put it into the economy. BUT

There is no republicant who as a constituents interest in mind while they are in office, it is all about their pockets and nothing else matters. The abortion bullshit? They don't care that is just to get your votes they have abortions all the time, ow do you think they solve those secretary problems? A trip to the clinic, of course.

Posted by: Alison on October 29, 2010 at 7:05 AM | PERMALINK



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