November 24, 2014
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There’s a better way to care for our veterans
Lonnie Barham

TIME TO PHASE OUT THE VA? In a Wall Street Journal commentary piece last week, Dr. Hal Scherz, a highly respected urologist and medical school professor, related numerous stories from his personal experience and from other doctors about VA hospitals’ shoddy management and the inadequate treatment the VA provides to veterans. He advocated for winding down the whole VA healthcare system and giving veterans an insurance card to get medical care in their communities from medical professionals not affiliated with government bureaucracy.

He said, “The federal government runs two giant healthcare programs - Medicare and the VA system. Medicare is provided by private physicians and other providers. Its finances are a mess, but the care that seniors receive is by and large outstanding. The VA health-care system is run by a centrally controlled federal bureaucracy. Ultimately, that is the source of the poor care veterans receive.”

Is it time to phase out the VA system? Many veterans think so, to include this writer who is an Army retiree and veteran of three wars. There is little doubt that our veterans will receive far better care from private doctors and hospitals not run by the government - and at far less cost to taxpayers.

The biggest obstacle? Unions! Two thirds of the VA’s 300,000 employees belong to unions that are adamantly opposed to outsourcing veterans’ healthcare since union jobs will be in jeopardy. Unions’ biggest backers, Democrats in Congress who receive millions of dollars in union contributions, will never back any proposal to cut back on union jobs, even if it means our veterans will continue to receive substandard care through the mismanaged, bureaucratic VA system.

CLASH OF IDEALS IN POW RELEASE:  Two very important American ideals have been sloganized: “We will never leave a soldier behind,” and “We will never negotiate with terrorists.”

The two ideals have now collided with the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from terrorist captivity after the Obama administration negotiated his release with Taliban terrorists in exchange for the release of five terrorist leaders from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo, Cuba.

As an Army retiree and veteran of three wars, I lived the ideal that we would never leave a fellow soldier behind. It is a bedrock belief and the unerring practice of every U.S. soldier. However, it is very disturbing that President Obama authorized negotiating with terrorists in order to gain Bergdahl’s release. It will have very far-reaching, adverse implications.

All soldiers understand when they enlist that, if captured, they may not survive, and that our country will never negotiate with terrorists to gain their release. Soldiers know that if a “reward,” such as the release of five very dangerous terrorists is paid to gain a POW’s release, then every soldier in the conflict becomes a candidate for capture to use as a bargaining chip in negotiations. Remaining in captivity is a price every U.S. soldier is prepared to pay so fellow soldiers’ lives are not placed in even greater danger.

We should all be happy that sergeant Bergdahl is home, even though it appears that he deserted his unit and that brave, dedicated soldiers lost their lives looking for him. We should not be happy with how President Obama engineered his release. Not only did he violate U.S. law by failing to notify Congress that he was releasing terrorists, he violated the trust of U.S. soldiers still serving in Afghanistan who will now become kidnapping targets.

MATTIELLO “WALKING THE WALK” ON OVER-REGULATION:  Proving the old adage that “if you talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk,” House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello walked the walk last week when he intervened with the state’s Department of Health over its ridiculously burdensome regulations covering CVS Pharmacy’s proposed Minute Clinics in Rhode Island. With Mattiello’s pushing, the health department dropped its requirements that the clinics treat only a limited list of ailments, that CVS pay a $25,000 tribute to the government for every clinic it establishes in an area where there is a deficiency of family doctors, and the mandate that CVS provide a certain level of free care.

Mattiello told us he would fight to eliminate unnecessary red tape regulations that hamper business growth in Rhode Island. His actions to assist CVS rid itself of the onerous regulations imposed by the health department seems to indicate that he meant what he said.

WHAT WE HAVE TO CHANGE IN RHODE ISLAND: A Wall Street Journal analysis of U.S. Labor Department data shows that manufacturing jobs have been added in the South, West and Midwest, while the Northeast has lost manufacturing jobs. That’s no big surprise. We in Rhode Island know that we have suffered job losses for years.

The interesting thing about the WSJ analysis is that it shows what differs between those areas where job growth is robust and those where the number of jobs are decreasing.

The big differences? Jobs grow in areas where taxes are low, in “right to work” states where workers are not forced to join unions, where local government offer incentives, where strong vocational education is offered, and where companies have access to ports and other transportation hubs.

The report provides a roadmap for what Rhode Island needs to do to boost job creation. We must overrule the special interest unions and pass a right to work law. We must lower corporate taxes and other taxes that keep manufacturing companies away. We must invest more in vocational education. We must create tax incentives for new companies. And we must enlarge the port at Quonset and enhance the port of Providence.

“BLOCKHEADS” SHOULD RALLY: Cranston mayor and Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung just aired a comical campaign ad that portrays supporters of rival Republican candidate Ken Block as “blockheads,” - depicting them literally with heads shaped like blocks and spouting such things as “Block voted for Obama twice,” “Block was an advisor to Governor Chafee,” and “Block supports Obamacare.”

It’s a very funny ad that will surely capture a lot of attention. The only problem with the ad: it is clearly erroneous in some of its statements and misrepresents Block’s position in others. Using deception and misrepresentation, unfortunately, seems to have become a routine practice with the Fung campaign.

Block supporters should capitalize on Fung’s creation and start wearing block-type hats similar to those worn by Green Bay Packers fans. They should take full advantage of Fung’s advertising gimmick and exploit it to their advantage.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY DESTROYING RI EDUCATION SYSTEM: Even though House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Paiva Weed claim they are in favor of creating jobs, getting rid of onerous business regulations and improving our economy, the two are laying the groundwork to destroy what’s left of the education system in Rhode Island - and along with it, destroying our hopes to attract jobs.

Mattiello allowed passage of a bill that would outlaw 95 percent of annual teacher evaluations, replacing the practice with teacher evaluations every 3-4 years instead. Teacher evaluations are already greatly inflated. A high percentage of those currently rated as effective or highly effective are really only minimally adequate or marginally ineffective. Principals, all of whom came from the teacher ranks, are reluctant to rate a teacher honestly and accurately.

Paiva Weed allowed passage of a bill that would delay for three years implementation of the NECAP requirement for high school graduation. For another three years, Rhode Island will continue to give diplomas to students who have not shown even partial proficiency in math and English.

How in the world can our economically devastated little state attract and maintain jobs when we keep those teachers who shouldn’t be in front of students and then allow those students to enter the workforce without having demonstrated even partial mastery of the skills employers need. If we thought businesses avoided Rhode Island before because of our uneducated workforce, watch those numbers skyrocket now!

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: In an editorial arguing against President Obama’s plan to pull virtually all troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year and all by the end of 2016, the Wall Street Journal reminded us of why we kept a substantial number of troops in Germany after WWII and in Korea after the Korean War - “as a signal to our enemies that the U.S. will resist an attack on a U.S. ally.”

The editorial also spoke of the Taliban’s refrain that “Americans have the watches but we have the time.” And that “By announcing another arbitrary deadline for withdrawal, Mr. Obama has given them renewed reason to believe they are right.”


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