Walter Reed

Via the Sideshow: Walter Reed is not a VA hospital, but an army hospital, which belongs to a different system. This is important because a lot of people, including Gordo, are drawing the wrong lesson from the scandal and attacking the best health care system available to non-millionaires in the United States.

First, the VA is mind-bogglingly cheap. In 2005, the VA system cost $28.2 billion to operate; in 2004, it had 7.4 million enrolled veterans, for a per capita cost of $3,800. That’s still higher than the average of almost every country in the world, but is finally lower than this of Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland, unlike the general US average.

In contrast, Medicare and Medicaid cost $900 billion in 2005 and had 80 million enrollees, for $11,000 per capita. It’s expectable for them to cost somewhat more than the national average, because old people, who’re on Medicare, use more health services than younger people. But Medicare and Medicaid’s total cost divided by the USA’s entire population is already higher than the per capita cost of almost every public health care system in the developed world and almost as high as this of the VA system.

The VA is not only cheap but also good. On many indicators, the VA system is rated the best health care system in the US, largely thanks to a rebuilding effort in the 1990s produced by the system’s shocking state of neglect. The VA system reproduces many of the elements of good public health care: a focus on prevention, since enrollment is for life; a centralized database keeping track of who has gotten which tests and is suffering from what condition, since all VA hospitals are managed by the same system; efficient administration and a small paperwork burden, because of the centralized database.

That’s why, as Paul Krugman documents, opponents of public health care do their best to deride the VA system and instead promote bloated, inefficient programs extending Medicare, such as Medicare Part D. Walter Reed plays right to their hands, since it allows them to shift their argument from an ideological opposition to public health care, which is unpopular, to an attack on the government’s incompetence, which everyone likes to hear regardless of whether it applies.

6 Responses to Walter Reed

  1. SLC says:

    In fact, the problems at Walter Reed point out the problems with privatization. What did General Kiley say at the hearings. He isn’t responsible for what happen there because a private contractor was running the division where the problems occurred. See his comment below.

    “Kiley started off in similar fashion, saying he was “personally and professionally sorry” and acknowledging: “I share these failures.” But the further he got from his prepared testimony, the less contrite he became. He was blameless after Walter Reed shifted maintenance to a private contractor in 2004. “I was not the commander then.””

  2. Dav says:

    When I was in the Peace Corps, I blew out my ankle so bad that it would resprain itself in the night, just by moving it. They medevaced me back to DC for possible surgery and PT. My uncle who is a prety high up guy in the AF was freaked that I might be getting treatemtn in Walter Reed. Luckly the PC sent me to local physicians in DC. They kew way back in 2003 how bad WR was, nobody had the cojones to do anything about it due to Bush’s policy of privitzing everything. I know he aimed/aims at Air taffic conrtol next. That should be fun.

    Nice blog ya got here, we should swap links…What do ya say?

  3. Ken Larson says:

    We need to be careful to differentiate between the Active Service Hospitals and the Veteran’s Administration. There are major differences.

    I am currently a resident in a Veteran’s Home after having undergone treatment through the VA for PTSD and Depression, long overdue some 40 years after the Tet Offensive that cap stoned my military 2nd tour in Vietnam with a lifetime of illness.

    My blog has attracted the stories of many veterans such as myself and other sufferers from PTSD who were victimized by elements of society other than the VA system of medical and mental treatment. I, for one, became trapped in the Military Industrial Complex for 36 years working on weapons systems that are saving lives today but with such high security clearances that I dared not get treated for fear of losing my career:

    When my disorders became life threatening I was entered into the VA System for treatment in Minneapolis. It saved my life and I am now in complete recovery and functioning as a volunteer for SCORE, as well as authoring books and blogging the world.

    When I was in the VA system I was amazed at how well it functioned and how state of the art it is for its massive mission. Below is a feature article from Time Magazine which does a good job of explaining why it is a class act:,9171,1376238,00.html

    I had state of the art medical and mental care, met some of the most dedicated professionals I have ever seen and was cared for by a handful of very special nurses among the 60,000 + nursing population that make up that mammoth system. While I was resident at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis I observed many returnees from Iraq getting excellent care.

    I do not say the VA system is perfect but it is certainly being run better on a $39B budget than the Pentagon is running on $494B.

    We have bought into the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). If you would like to read this happens please see:

    Through a combination of public apathy and threats by the MIC we have let the SYSTEM get too large. It is now a SYSTEMIC problem and the SYSTEM is out of control. Government and industry are merging and that is very dangerous.

    There is no conspiracy. The SYSTEM has gotten so big that those who make it up and run it day to day in industry and government simply are perpetuating their existance.
    The politicians rely on them for details and recommendations because they cannot possibly grasp the nuances of the environment and the BIG SYSTEM.

    So, the system has to go bust and then be re-scaled, fixed and re-designed to run efficiently and prudently, just like any other big machine that runs poorly or becomes obsolete or dangerous.

    This situation will right itself through trauma. I see a government ENRON on the horizon, with an associated house cleaning.

    The next president will come and go along with his appointees and politicos. The event to watch is the collapse of the MIC.
    For more details see:

  4. cz0v3q says:

    Where did you get your definitions for the hospitals?

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