Anybody who still thinks it's a good idea to give the federal government total control over health care should consider the case of Philip E. Cushman, a Portland, Ore., resident and decorated ex-Marine whose back was broken when a fellow serviceman accidentally dropped a sandbag on top of him when their unit was under attack in Vietnam.
For the past two decades, Cushman has been unsuccessfully trying to get the Veterans' Administration to hand over some $100,000 it owes him for his service-related disability.
Finally, in an Aug. 12 landmark decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that Cushman's statutorily mandated, non-discretionary, service-related disability benefits are protected property under the U.S. Constitution. The court also found that the VA illegally altered Cushman's medical records to avoid having to pay his claim.
Gordon Erspamer, a Walnut Creek, Calif., attorney whose law firm represented Cushman pro bono, told me that somebody at the VA added language implying that the septuagenarian -- who has endured four back operations and has a steel rod implanted in his spine -- could work, provided he was "not doing heavy bending or lifting." The VA then gave the Social Security Administration the altered document, so Cushman was denied Social Security disability benefits as well. "It was a double whammy," Erspamer said.
Two years ago, Social Security backed down when Cushman's lawyers proved that the VA document had a forged entry. But not the VA. "The VA refused to readjudicate his claim, even though the only record suggesting he could work was that entry. The VA fights everything," Erspamer explained. "It's a very bewildering, adversarial system.
Unfortunately, Cushman is not the only disabled vet who's been getting the bum's rush from the government. The number of backlogged cases at the VA is expected to hit the one million mark this year for the first time ever. Cushman's attorneys also discovered that, while it takes the VA just 4.6 hours on average to decide a compensation claim, it takes the agency five years to actually settle the claim. And even after stalling for five years, the VA's cumulative error rate is 90 percent!
"Three thousand veterans die every year while their appeals are pending," Erspamer said. And as death extinguishes their disability claims, their families get nothing. . .
The VA's integrated single-payer system, which the Wall Street Journal describes as a "liberal Shangri-la," sounds great on paper. But if you're a disabled vet like Cushman, getting the VA to do its job often becomes a never-ending nightmare.
And if the federal government treats its own military veterans -- who were disabled fighting for their country -- in such a shoddy and disrespectful fashion, do you really think it'll do any better when you get sick?
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Vets Take It In the Shorts
A few months ago, comment suek asked whether VA hospitals could be a successful model for health care reform. In the August 25th Washington Examiner, Barbara Hollingsworth answers: