Why we should support the VA

Sourced from progressive.org

By Suzanne Gordon, December 14, 2011

Some Republican Presidential candidates love to say how much they support veterans, but they lose credibility when they go after the Veterans Administration.

Michelle Bachman, for instance, proposes $4.5 billion dollars in cuts to the Veterans Administration. And Mitt Romney wants to kill the VA altogether and replace it with a voucher system.

The VA — with it’s so-called socialized medicine — has long been a target of Republican wrath. It is the largest integrated health care system in the country. And it works. With its 153 hospitals, more than180,000 employees, and hundreds of clinics, nursing homes, counseling and rehabilitation centers, the VA is an engine of progress in a bleak landscape of health care dysfunction.

The VA, not surprisingly excels in the treatment of combat-related physical and psychic trauma, like Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD.

But it also provides superior care in such areas as treatment of diabetes and heart disease, among many others.

And the VA has successfully tackled the vexing and costly problem of hospital-acquired infections like MRSA — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. The Pittsburgh VA implemented an anti-MRSA program, which included surveillance of employees, contact precautions, hand hygiene, and institutional culture change. The incidence of MRSA dropped precipitously.

Because the VA is a system, what worked in one facility was easily rolled out to all 153 of its hospitals. All patients admitted to a VA acute care hospital were tested for MRSA. Patients who were positive were then isolated. More importantly, all employees were convinced to do something only about 50 percent actually were doing — which is washing their hands after each patient contact.

Dr.Rajiv Jain and infection control nurses like Kathy Risa encouraged culture change by making infection-control everyone’s business. Between October 2007 and June 2010, rates of health care-associated MRSA infections in the VA’s intensive care units decreased by 62 percent and in non-intensive care units by 45 percent. This occurred at a time when MRSA rates were rising in other hospitals.

Destroying the VA would not only deprive veterans of excellent care, it would also deprive all Americans of innovative models of high quality, cost-effective care.

Republicans like Michelle Bachman and Mitt Romney don’t like the VA because it demonstrates that government-run health care can be successful.

Rather than change their theories, they ignore these facts. And they seem willing to monkey with what even Newt Gingrich recently called a “model” and “a very impressive institution.”

Veterans deserve to know that their government-run health care will be there when they need it. That’s the least we can do for them.

Suzanne Gordon is the co-editor of the Culture and Politics of Health Care Work Series at Cornell University Press. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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One response to this post.

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