In late June and early July, hundreds of AFGE members and veterans held protests across the country to expose the attempts by powerful special interests and their mouthpieces in Congress to shut down VA hospitals.
The protests were reported on by media outlets across the country, and one of those reports caught the eye of a VA doctor in Minnesota who is also a retired colonel and an AFGE member. From her own unique perspective, she wrote to AFGE members to show her support and explain why Congress must not shutter VA facilities and leave veterans in the hands of for-profit hospitals. Her letter is copied in its entirety below.
When I first came to work at the VA in 2010, I had just completed 10 years active duty in the Air Force and was fresh from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan. Like all military members returning from combat conditions, I had some problems with returning to the “real world” – constantly fearful, hesitant to connect emotionally, and so very sad and guilty for the pain that my deployment caused for my children.
Fortunately, I landed in an understanding and supportive environment at the St. Cloud VA. Although I was hired to be a “healer,” I was also one of the wounded. But by daily support and communication with my fellow military members, I was able to come to peace with my memories, and fully understand the special and unique mission of the VA.
Because of the awe-inspiring improvements in military medicine, we have decreased the number of deaths among combat troops. In World War II, 60% of all wounded military members died. During the Vietnam conflict this number improved, only 38% of wounded military members died. But now, in our current conflicts only 17% of wounded military members ultimately die. This shows the wonderful success of military medicine.
However, this means that 83% of wounded military members will return to the VA for long-term medical and psychological care. Our country owes these brave men and women the best quality medical care possible. However, providing this care will be expensive in terms of money and personnel, and for the many years to come. This will not be a money-making enterprise.
And that is why the VA must stay publicly funded. Privatization of veteran health care will be a disaster as profit-driven companies look for ways to cut costs – often affecting the most seriously injured who will need care for many years. Private health and mental health care would be provided in an atmosphere that does not respect the special challenges that returning veterans face.
Keep the VA – and make it better. It is a sacred trust that we owe to our country’s defenders.
Col (Dr.) Jeanine Czech, USAFR