Indifference to veterans

Why can’t veterans of military service get their health care through community health centers such as the one in Storm Lake? Otherwise, they have to drive an hour to the VA Clinic in Fort Dodge to get primary health care or satisfy prescription drug needs. Nobody can answer the question — at least not anybody we tried to contact on Wednesday.

We called:

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, House VA Chair Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, House VA Committee Member Tim Walz, D-Minn., the National Assocation of Community Health Centers and the Iowa Primary Care Association. We also called the office of Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, who advertises himself a champion for veterans.

None of them could answer our question.

Brad Meyer, a National Guard veteran who manages United Community Health Center in Storm Lake, would like to know the answer, too. He has heard a lot of talk, but has seen no results.

The late State Sen. Mary Lou Freeman, R-Storm Lake, lobbied to have these clinics serve as VA access points. She got nowhere.

We mentioned it years ago to Harkin, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in the Senate. He thought it was a wonderful idea.

And then the idea went off to die somewhere.

The problem with the Veterans Administration is access. It always has been.

There are 14 community health centers in Iowa. Why should a veteran from Storm Lake have to go to Carroll, Fort Dodge, Sioux City or Spirit Lake for VA services when he or she could get them right here?

Community health centers are federally chartered health clinics offering medical and dental services. Last year Sanders tried to allow veterans to use community health centers for dental care. The bill died, presumably in the House. We called the chairman of the House VA committee to find out why. We were not allowed to speak with Rep. Miller’s staff — after we told them our question.

No one has done more to promote community health centers than Sen. Harkin. That’s why we find it especially curious that no one in his office, apparently, can answer our question. One staffer suggested that it probably has to do with special-interest politics. She knows.

The reason no one wants to answer our question is because they know the answer:

The VA is a political minefield. Add a service for veterans outside the VA system and watch the special interests — especially veteran’s groups — go into apoplectic shock. No politician wants to go there.

Except, perhaps, for Sanders.

Here is what the Vermont senator told MSNBC on Tuesday:

“Second of all, we have community health centers — federally funded community health centers all over this country, which do a great job with primary health care. You have the Indian Health Service. You have Department of Defense facilities. We might want to open them up to veterans if there are waiting lines within the VA itself.”

The Obama Administration announced much the same initiative on Saturday.

There is a big, fat “if” in Sanders’ statement. “If” there are waiting lines, then we might want to open up these alternatives.

There is no “if” about it.

If you are in Storm Lake, you do not have direct physical access to the VA system without driving an hour.

How is that taking care of our veterans?

A veteran should be able to access free medical care anywhere he wants. There should be no waiting lines. Show your VA card and jump to the front of the line. If our actions matched our rhetoric that we use to justify war — that we must sacrifice for veterans as they have sacrificed for us — we would cut through the red tape and claptrap and allow vets to get the best care in the world right here at home.

The problem is that there are always “ifs” and “buts.”

It is bipartisan, this sort of indifference.

We have been talking about this for 10 years.

And still, nobody can answer our question:

Why do we treat veterans — especially rural ones with no easy access to VA facilities — so shabbily? Why is nothing ever done to improve these services? Why do they run from our simple question?

Politics trumps justice. That’s the only answer we can divine.