There’s an interesting tell from this recent report in the news. The Imperial Twitterer (or Twit, for short form) is having issues filling a cabinet level position in his forthcoming administration. While I can understand the reasons behind these gentlemen’s choice (full disclosure: I thought Luis Quinonez was a great pick – hope he gets better). The fact that there are thousands of people in DC that would kill for a shot at this, and that current gossip and innuendo would float the ones who, a) wanted the job and b) could handle the job, would present a solid list. Maybe top ten or twenty. 

Because I’m not connected to the DC chattering class, I can’t speak to any short list being created. What I do know, or rather, what my opinion is, is that what happens to the VA will be a strong reflection of what this administration – and the bureaucracy in general – wants for the country.

I’m tempted to link to a lot of old articles, mainly microfiche, from the cave-dweller days of the 70’s and 80’s. I can personally relate to you my first visit to the VA in Boston, MA, when I got out of the service.

Rode my motorcycle into the city on a humid morning in August of ’83. Partly as part of standard discharge instructions, partly for a pinched nerve in my back. Found a place to park right near the entrance, which I thought was a good sign. The street was kind of gray and bleak, standard non-description government buildings. 

I walked up the steps (no handicap ramps then) and pushed through the heavy doors. It led to a small lobby, last updated about fifty years earlier. No receptionist, just different signs with arrows to the departments. Luckily, I had an office number to help. It would have helped if there were working lights in the dark hallway, only lit by ambient window light and two flickering fluorescents. Walking down the hallway partially explained the darkness. The walls had paint peeling off of them. Not bits and pieces, all of it. It was like walking through a condemned tenement. Didn’t see rats, but they were probably in the basement.

Got to the doc’s room a few minutes ahead of time. No nurse, secretary, or even other patients. The inner office door was cracked open a bit, so I said ‘Hello’. A guy’s voice said to come on back.

A makeshift examination room, with a large amount of folders stacked on his desk. An IBM computer with a green screen monitor jockeyed for dominance. 

The visit didn’t last long. It was mostly to get myself recorded into their system, because if you weren’t in, getting service later would involve a whole lot of paperwork that could delay treatment. The part about my back pain got denied for disability, due to a sergeant who talked me out of a clinic visit when I had my accident (he did pay for beers at the NCO club that day).

I didn’t visit another VA facility until ten years ago, when there was a big campaign to get vets to register with their nearest clinic. Again, to preempt a paperwork fiasco. That time, I only had to visit a field office in Springfield, VA. Met with a secretary, presented my 214, and she was able to access my file from 1983! Reason was, she was using another clunky computer, but this time with a color monitor. I think the VA didn’t know Windows was available.

Forward to today, or rather today minus three years. Getting cut from defense contractor employment forced me to visit to get meds. Different office, clean, efficient looking. Same damn DOS based data system from 1983. Still they have issues with procedure (you HAVE to see this doc before going straight to the specialist). Even at the main hospital in Richmond, VA, it’s better than what I experienced in Boston (barring the parking issue, which they were waiting on funding).

My VA story may not, probably not, be a standard example. Comparing it to my local hospital is like comparing grapes to watermelon. What takes days in the VA – due to schedule issues, takes only hours in public facilities. Not all the time, but most. 

My opinion is that the present VA was built on the shaky ruins of the 70’s system. It’s been paste and glue ever since. Me thinks it’s a good bet to allow vets to use local facilities, using a Veticare(C) card/account. Then, privatize the present hospitals. Add a vigorously enabled accounting section to prevent fraud and waste. As for the other benefits veterans get; they’re probably being duplicated in other bureaucracy departments. Shift those burdens and what do you get?

No more dysfunctional VA.