Support the troops...when convenient, affordable, expedient, etc.

Sunday, February 18, 2007 at 05:03 PM

As if you needed any further proof that all the grandstanding and posturing by Republicans who now use "support the troops" as a universal response to all criticism of Iraq is....grandstanding and posturing:

Yes, of course it turns out that the same folks, from the White House to Congress, have managed to not support the troops who have come home from military duty.  From attacks on the VA budget (remember that a VA official some time ago called the escalating cost of caring for vets a "drain on the economy"), to playing games with the financial support for vets with mental problems, to blocking treating physicians from accessing full info on their vet patients, "we" have not come close to really supporting the troops when the camera lights go off and the media spinners go to bed.

Two quick examples:

1. The McClatchy Newspapers reported last week that (emphasis added): investigation by McClatchy Newspapers has found that even by its own measures, the VA isn't prepared to give returning veterans the care that could best help them overcome destructive, and sometimes fatal, mental health ailments.

McClatchy relied on the VA's own reports, as well as an analysis of VA data released under the federal Freedom of Information Act. McClatchy analyzed 200 million records, including every medical appointment in the system in 2005, accessed VA documents and spoke with mental health experts, veterans and their families from around the country.
Moreover, the return of so many veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan is squeezing the VA's ability to treat yesterday's soldiers from Vietnam, Korea and World War II.
more than a decade ago, when the agency decided to move away from focusing on high-cost inpatient hospital care and toward outpatient clinics that could tend to veterans' primary care needs.

In addition, the VA scrapped its organizational structure and created about 20 networks, more than 150 hospitals and - as of today - more than 800 outpatient clinics. The new system would provide "easier access to care and greater consistency in the quality of care," the VA said in a March 1995 report.

At the same time, Congress passed legislation to make sure that the VA didn't skimp on mental health care, with a key committee saying it was concerned that mental health and other specialized treatment "may be particularly vulnerable and disproportionately subject to budget cutting." The reason? The "newly decentralized organization, under budget pressures and focused heavily on instituting new primary care programs" might cut the very programs on which "the Department's most vulnerable beneficiaries depend," a congressional report said.

Congress ordered the VA to maintain the "capacity" of its mental health care programs.

Over the next several years, however, VA management and a committee of its mental health experts bickered over what "capacity" meant.

The expert committee said that "capacity" meant the number of people served in special mental health programs and the amount of money spent, adjusted for inflation. The VA administration didn't adjust for inflation.

Because specialized mental health spending inched up after 1996, the VA could report to Congress every year that it was maintaining the capacity of its mental health services.

Its committee of experts, however, said that specialized mental health services were declining and that the VA's use of unadjusted dollars in an era of high inflation in medical costs rendered its annual reports "meaningless."

At the same time, the VA began treating many more people for mental health ailments, so the amount spent has plummeted from $3,560 per veteran in 1995 to $2,581 per veteran in 2004 - even before correcting for inflation. (Overall, mental health spending during that period went from $2.01 billion to $2.19 billion.)

2. On Friday, the Washington Post reported that:

Department of Veterans Affairs doctors are furious over a recent decision by the Pentagon to block their access to medical information needed to treat severely injured troops arriving at VA hospitals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The VA physicians handle troops with serious brain injuries and other major health problems. They, rely on digital medical records that track the care given wounded troops from the moment of their arrival at a field hospital through their evacuation to the United States.

About 30 VA doctors in four trauma centers around the country have treated about 200 severely wounded soldiers and Marines. The docs had been receiving the complete digital records from the Pentagon until the end of January, using the Pentagon's Joint Patient Tracking Application.
The access cutoff came after [Tommy] Morris [director of Deployment Health Systems]...instructed a colleague: "If the VA currently has access I need a list of persons and I need their accounts shut off ASAP. It is illegal for them to have access without data use agreements and access controls in place by federal regulations and public law."

That's right, folks, VA doctors treating seriously injured war vets, were denied access to vital information because the VA's resident bureaucrat didn't have the appropriate paperwork.

And where might all the poseurs from the right side of the congressional aisle be right now, when "the troops" actually do need them to get off their amply cushioned butts and do something?