Monday, May 26, 2014

Happy Memorial Day! Will America Let The Republicans Privatize The Veterans Administration?


Predators on the right sense an opportunity. Reactionary sociopath and Tea Party icon Ben Carson is calling the V.A. disaster a gift from God. After systematically underfunding the Veterans Administration discretionary spending since taking over Congress, the Republicans are watching with glee as the weak and compromised Obama Administration flounders with the problems inherent in an underfunded system. And Republicans, of course, are starting to clamor for privatization. Big Business is drooling-- and when they drool conservatives on both sides of the aisle get ready for action. Boehner's in a feeding frenzy.
More than two decades ago, House Speaker John Boehner said, he floated an idea that was controversial: Why not privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs?

The idea was soundly rejected by veterans’ organizations.

Now, in the midst of a sweeping scandal over allegations that government officials falsified reports on how long veterans were waiting for medical treatment, Boehner said yesterday that the idea still has merit.

“I still like the idea, and especially now,” he said.

He said he doesn’t think that the VA’s funding is the problem. He said there have been “sizable increases” in VA funding in the past 15 years, plus “all kinds of promises that things would be better.”

“It’s clear that even with all the additional funds given to them, things have not gotten better; they’ve gotten worse,” he said.

“If money were to solve the problem, it would’ve been solved a long time ago.”
Dr. Michael Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic doesn't agree with Boehner. He blames Congress for the problems with the V.A. "[T]he VA's medical leaders of the 90s were so superb that they literally leapfrogged past many of us in the academic and private sectors of medicine to set the standard in quality and in information technology… [M]y guess is that… when these wars were started, our government didn't plan for the VA budget to treat the soldier victims. And Congress still hasn't allocated enough funds to adequately do so." Writing for ThinkProgress last week, Igor Volsky made the point that "While veterans have struggled to gain adequate access to care since the Kennedy administration, plagued by staffing shortages, delays and funding shortfalls, the health services they do receive are the best in the nation. That dynamic has pushed many veterans into a love-hate relationship with the organization they depend on."
“Most veterans are very pleased with the care they receive, but when it comes to standing in line, they do and should rightfully expect to be seen as quickly as possible, especially if the wound, illness or injury could worsen,” Joe Davis, Public Affairs Director for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), said.

He pointed to the annual Independent Budget, a dream budget published by four leading veteran organizations. It has consistently found that the VA serves as “a model health-care provider that has led the way in various areas of medical research, specialized services, and health-care technology.” It provides “quality and expertise on veterans’ health care” that “cannot be adequately duplicated in the private sector” and has become “the most efficient and cost-effective health-care system in the nation,” the document notes. A 2005 survey from the RAND Corporation similarly found that “VA patients were more likely to receive recommended care” and “received consistently better care across the board, including screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow up.” The VA also outperforms the nation’s health care system in delivering chronic and preventive care, treating diabetes.

A 2013 survey released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that 93 percent of veterans who use the VA health care system have a favorable impression of it. A forthcoming independent survey of veterans scheduled to be released next month by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) will echo that sense.
But don;t expect that to put a crimp in the Republican privatization frenzy. Dave Johnson's OpEd for Nation of Change, debunking the privatization scam is something you should arm yourself with for the inevitable battles with co-workers and brothers-in-law who get their information for Fox and Hate Talk Radio. "For decades," he points out, "we’ve been subjected to constant propaganda that government is inefficient, bureaucratic and expensive. We’re told that the answer is to 'privatize,' or 'outsource' government functions to private businesses and they will do things more efficiently and everyone comes out ahead. As a result we have experienced decades of privatization of government functions. So how has this wave of privatization worked out? Has privatization saved taxpayers money and improved services to citizens? Simple answer: of course not. If a company can make a profit doing something the government had been doing, it means that we’re losing out one way or another. It’s simple math. And the result of falling for the privatization scam is that taxpayers have been fleeced, services to citizens have been cut way back and communities have been made poorer. But the companies that convinced governments to hand over public functions have gotten rich off of the deal. How is this a surprise?" He then offers 5 solid and catastrophic examples. Here are two of them:
Chicago Parking Meters

The mother of all privatization horror stories is what happened with Chicago’s parking meters. In 2008 the city “financialized” its parking meter revenue stream. It leased the rights to collect from parking meters to a consortium led by Wall Street bank Morgan Stanley. The lease is for 75 years.

Right away parking-meter rates went up fourfold and meters stopped working. The city’s residents were unhappy, but there was nothing they could do about it.

But wait, it gets worse. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the big Wall Street bank was more interested in making money than in giving Chicago the best deal it could. An inspector general looked into the deal and found that the city was shortchanged by at least $974 million. But a 2010 Forbes story says the Morgan Stanley consortium may realize a profit of $9.58 billion after paying Chicago only $1.15 billion.

To top it off, the city not only gave up 75 years of revenue for not nearly enough up-front cash, it had signed a contract prohibiting the city from interfering with Morgan Stanley’s ability to profit from the deal. This means the city can’t build parking structures where they are needed and can’t even give out disabled parking permits. The city can’t even close streets to have street fairs or festivals without paying Morgan Stanley for lost meter profits.

Prisons for Profit

Imagine a system where someone makes a profit if more and more people are put in prison. This is known as a “perverse incentive.” Really, can you think of anything worse than getting a profit to get people put in jail? What you think could go wrong is exactly what does go wrong. These companies want profits, so rehabilitation becomes a “cost.”

These companies push for government policies that put more people into prison for more crimes and for longer sentences. Prison-for-profit companies working with the corporate/right-wing lobbying outfit American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) came up with model legislation pushing things like “three strikes” and “truth in sentencing” which greatly increase the number of prisoners and the amount of time they serve.

But the worst part of prison privatization is companies saving on “costs” by cutting back on staff, food quality and you-name it. A 2013 Palm Beach Post investigation found that “dangerously low numbers of corrections officers-- including local guards with criminal backgrounds-- and reports of squalor, rape and riots dog corporate prison operators. …Audits, security reports, lawsuits, government records and state and federal investigations in 21 states unveil a startling pattern of murder, riots and sexual assault at private prisons nationwide. Often, those failures stem from not enough guards.”

Nine major riots erupted since 2000. At least 25 inmates died amid claims of mistreatment, inadequate medical care or in riots. Three prisons for teenagers were shuttered between 2000 and 2012 after discoveries of squalor and sex abuse. A women’s prison was emptied after widespread reports of rape by staff.

How does this compare to prisons that are not run by private companies for profit?

At Florida’s state-run prisons in the same 12-year period: No major damage or severe injuries from riots; no closures over squalor; no Justice Department investigations over human rights.

In another example in Mississippi, a private company called the GEO Group ran the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility. The Justice Department spent two years looking into conditions at the facility and issued a report saying the facility engaged in “systemic, egregious and dangerous practices.” A judge wrote the company “has allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate, the sum of which places the offenders at substantial ongoing risk.”

A recent In the Public Interest report, The Costs of Private Prisons, says “the promised cost savings often fail to materialize.” The report looked at more than 40 studies of private prisons and how this turned out, in five states. They found “no cost advantage” and that for-profit prison companies, “employ questionable methodology when calculating costs of private facilities. This includes finding ways to hide the costs of private prisons, ensuring that increased costs are not apparent until after the initial contract is signed, and using inflated public prison costs during comparisons.”
Is that giving to stop your Limbaugh-listening brother-in-law? Not, not mine either. And not John Boehner.

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At 7:03 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

(Video) Honor Thy Fallen: A Memorial Day Tribute 2014


At 8:43 AM, Blogger ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

People ought to push back.

It's the Bush-Cheney wars and their "stop-loss" policies that created this huge problem that the VA can't deal with.

(And of course, the GOP efforts to cut its funding since have been a huge problem.)


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