Providing veterans care

It comes as little surprise that health care for veterans of military service is poor. The controversy over waiting times for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to get care through the Veterans Administration hospital and clinics in Phoenix is hardly new. A succession of presidents has been trying to improve the VA since it was essentially founded in 1940. Firing a general and some administrators might make people feel good for a few weeks, but it won’t make the war-wounded any healthier.

Veterans and their advocates through the generations have argued for a health system that serves their unique needs. The VA became an unassailable political bedrock. It has been viewed as a zero-sum game: allow any new benefit outside the VA and you are mounting an assault on the system itself.

The system needs to be assaulted.

A veteran in Storm Lake must go to Fort Dodge, Spirit Lake or Carroll to find a VA clinic where health care is free.

We do not understand, other than for political protection purposes, why a veteran should not be able to go to any clinic or hospital in the US. A veteran should be able to show his card at the local hospital or physician’s clinic and get top-flight primary medical care. A veteran should be able to choose any hospital he would like, whether it is in Rochester, Minn., Iowa City or Storm Lake.

There should be no charge for any of it.

But we have clinic restrictions, means testing, hurdles to drug coverage and other impediments to veterans getting the best care possible.

The VA needs to maintain centers of health care excellence that answer needs unique to veterans, such as recovery from combat injuries or treatment for complicated psychiatric disorders.

For all other health care, a veteran should be put at the front of the line anywhere he or she wants to go. Veterans should have access to the best scientists and physicians this nation has to offer whether in a small rural hospital or at a place like Walter Reed Medical Center.

It is hard to argue that the best medical care in the world is available at the VA hospital in Des Moines or Omaha. You cannot say with a straight face that it is easier for someone in Alta to get prescription drug benefits in Fort Dodge or Sioux City rather than right here in Storm Lake.

The fact is that we talk a good game about taking care of veterans. Then we like to forget about them.

And, the fact is that we like to wage wars around the world without thinking about what happens to those men and women when they come home. We never figure the true cost of sending troops into combat.

It’s about time we put our money where our mouth is. Let veterans seek the best care where they wish. Give the VA a bit of competition, and we might find it remains a problem no more.


What’s in my burger?

Finely textured lean beef — some have called it “pink slime” — quietly is making its way back into your hamburger. Rising beef prices — the retail price of ground beef shot up 27% over the past two years — make the much-maligned supplement more palatable to consumers. That is, so long as they know what they are getting at the counter.

Finely textured lean beef (FTLB) is produced primarily by two firms: Cargill of Minnesota and Beef Products of South Sioux City, an outgrowth of IBP. The product is made by heating the trimmings left from cattle (mainly fat and connective tissue, but not muscle). The heated material is spun and treated with ammonia gas to throw off the fat and leave the lean tissue. There is some debate about whether it is meat or something else, sort of like the venerable hot dog.

With the hot dog you know what you’re getting. (They say you don’t want to see sausage being made, or legislation.) Consumers, however, thought they were buying unadulterated ground beef. Some don’t like the connective tissue part, some don’t like the gassing part to eliminate food-borne bacteria.

Federal authorities certify that the food is safe to eat.

Retailers like Hy-Vee are putting the product back in the meat counter as a way to mitigate beef price hikes. Ground beef with FTLB is labeled as such. Consumer demand is picking up. Beef Products reports that sales have doubled since the worst of the 2012 panic. “We have almost recovered from it,” Cargill Executive Chairman Gregory Page told The Wall Street Journal.

Consumers are able to make educated decisions if they have information. Some might want organic beef. Market it as such. Some might want FTLB in their ground beef for cost or low-fat reasons. Market it as such. This is why food labeling makes sense. It provided a way for Cargill and Beef Products to overcome consumer suspicion by complete information.