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Health Care Journalist Makes The Case For Preserving the Veterans Health Administration

Suzanne Gordon

It’s Veterans Day — a national holiday to honor the service of the country’s more than 18 million living veterans. There will be parades, speeches and a lot of applause. But Suzanne Gordon says that one of the key players in veteran services and one that works well, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), is being slowly gutted.

Gordon is an award-winning author and journalist who's been writing about health care for the past 35 years. She's spent the last few of those years focusing on the VA system. Her latest book about it is called Wounds of War: How the How the VA Delivers Health, Healing, and Hope to the Nation’s Veterans.

Gordon says the dominant narrative about VA health care, both in Congress and in much of the media, is that the system is irredeemably broken and offers substandard care. But she says on the contrary — the VA offers veterans some of the best coordinated and often cutting edge health care in the country.

"And it's not just my research," she says. "It's research that's been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, by the Rand Corporation, by the American Medical Association. We have countless studies that show that the VA, the Veterans Health Administration, delivers equal or often superior care to the private sector."

Gordon says even the wait time delays in the VHA that made news in the past are much worse in the private sector and have been mostly remedied in the VA system. So, why does the negative narrative about the VA persist? Gordon says it's because of money and anti-government sentiment.

"There are very strong forces at work — like the billionaire Koch brothers, the Concerned Veterans for America, the Trump administration, the Mar-a-Lago group, the hospital industry — that are circling like vultures because there is a $90 billion pot of gold in the VHA budget they would like to capture," she explains. "So they are working very hard to discredit government and the VHA."

Gordon finds it disturbing that even the liberal media has adopted the narrative that the VHA is broken. "Nothing could be further from the truth," she says. "The VHA deals with a patient population that is older and sicker. It offers them coordinated primary and geriatric care, mental health and home care services, and support for patients nearing the end of life. We should all have health care like this," says Gordon.

"I'm 74, I'm a patient, and I have a great health insurance. And I will never get the kind of care the VA delivers at its best and almost routinely to veterans. Never. Because they don't do coordinated, integrated care in the private sector," says Gordon.

Gordon is in Milwaukee on Monday to speak at the Veterans for Peace event "Reclaiming Armistice Day." The event is taking place at the Central United Methodist Church on N. 25th Street in Milwaukee and starts at 7 p.m.

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.