So Eric Shinseki, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, has resigned, and…so what? What will that change? Next to nothing substantial will change at the VA, and nothing will prevent the VA fiasco from becoming the fate of all of us under Obamacare–until the real boss, the 800-pound gorilla that we don’t speak of, not only resigns, but is removed permanently without replacement.
A random survey of two dozen recent articles on the VA in the New York Times yields not a single hit on the word ‘union’. Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal makes up for the deficit with 28 mentions in a single column (‘Big Labor’s VA Choke Hold, Potomac Watch, March 30’).
The unconscionable and unconsititutional power and privileges of the public employee unions is the single most significant driver of the crisis at the VA, as it is with state and county budgets from New Jersey to California. Two-thirds of the VA’s 300,000+ employees are members of the National Federation of Federal Empoyees, the American Federation of Government Employees International Union, and other unions. In 2012, 258 of them actually worked full-time only for the union, while being paid full salary and benefits by the VA–that is, by you and me the taxpayer. Of those, 17 earned between $100K and $132K; and it’s a safe bet that their benefits and pensions are at least twice as generous as those received by anyone earning comparable salaries in the private sector.
We don’t begrudge anyone earning $100K, $1 million, or even $10 million if it is earned honestly and paid for voluntarily by informed customers or clients who are free to take their business elsewhere. Doctors, nurses, teachers, and even union professionals should be paid seven figures if the consensus of their peers and those who write their own checks is that they merit it. But the minute someone’s haul becomes an ironclad privilege subject to no accountability beyond pleasing an equally unaccountable cabal of cronies, corruption multiplies until the inevitable results – long waiting times, neglectful care, needless deaths – become too glaring to ignore. Such is the nature of the public employee unions’ claim on taxpayer dollars irrespective of performance today.
More money is not going to solve the problem. The VA’s budget has tripled in the past 13 years, while the number of veterans served is either flat or has increased a maximum of 30%. It’s how the money gets spent, by whom, and under what incentives and constraints that counts.
The current ratio of ‘in-house’ to ‘outsourced’ care shoud be inverted, such that 90+% of the dollars spent by the VA pay for service delivered outside of the agency’s facilities and employee network. There is no reason why the U.S. government itself has to directly run 152 hospitals and be the primary care provider for veterans, any more than it has to be the monopoly manufacturer of furniture, appliances, or cell phones for them. Uncle Sam contracts out development of weapons of war and aircraft to hundreds of for-profit companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Glock Ges.m.b.H. As a middleman manager of taxpayer resources, it can set up a voucher system that enables veterans to purchase health insurance on the private market and to pay for catastrophic care provided by Casa Colina, the Kessler Rehabilitation Center, Johns Hopkins, and others. Veterans who fought for our freedom should not be captives of any single monopolist, whether the government, a union, or a political party (imagine the outcry if this scandal had broken under a Republican administration).
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This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom