Rudyard Kipling captured the essence of our uneasy relationship with the military more than 100 years ago: “Oh, it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Tommy, wait outside.’ But it’s ‘Special train for Atkins’ when the trooper’s on the tide.” We’re more than happy to send our soldiers to the front lines when war threatens our lives or our interests. But when peace breaks out, we’d prefer them to be invisible and quiet.
And it never seems to change.
Soldiers coming home from Vietnam complained about their less-than-gracious treatment. Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns at least seemed to be welcomed home with enthusiasm. But then we discover that our former warriors are being stuck in a Veterans Affairs health care system that makes them wait for treatment until they die. “The trooper’s on the tide” again, and the front lines are in our own neighborhoods.
The real scandal isn’t that the VA system is riddled with incompetence and malfeasance – that tends to be the nature of sclerotic bureaucracies. And it isn’t even that the atrocities have been covered up or that they have not been addressed by administration after administration.
No, the true tragedy is that there is a simple remedy that would never even be considered by the government. While yet another investigation stumbles to the logical conclusion that there is indeed a problem, not a single other veteran need die from lack of treatment. Give everyone on a waiting list a voucher to use in the private health-care sector. Veterans would be treated much more quickly and effectively, and the cost to taxpayers would be much less. What’s not to like?
But that would be unthinkable for the geniuses in Washington: Why, that would be almost like privatization. That would be an admission that we don’t know better than everyone else about everything.