VETERANS SHOULDN’T BE THE ONLY ONES ENTITLED TO “FREE” HEALTHCARE

BY JERRY DONNELLAN

Director, Veterans Service Agency, Rockland County

Going back, we had Hillarycare, which failed to get out of the gate. Then we had Obamacare, which made it out of the gate but fell on its nose the other day. Now it’s Trumpcare and we are wrestling with it.

Why is this so hard? I don’t understand. A lot of you know me – I lost a leg in Vietnam. But I’m not saying this for praise or sympathy. I am saying this to use myself as a visual aid.

For example, as an honest witness I got hit October 24, 1969 in the Central Highlands – a mountainous region of northern South Vietnam. The medic was on in no time. 

Thankfully my platoon had cleared an LZ (Landing Zone) for the helicopter. The Huey couldn’t fully land because of stumps so he had to hover a few feet off the ground, which made it difficult. And in order to get me on the Evac my buddies had to put me in a poncho tied at both ends like a hammock.  

Then they swung it back and forth and on the count of 3, threw me up and onto the bloody floor of this helicopter. Then the chopper with nose down headed out for a place called Hawk Hill, which was an aid station kind of like a MASH hospital.  There I received clean medical care.

They actually hosed me off and gave me the last rites, which may be good for the soul but it stinks for the morale. Then into the 95th Evac – many surgeries and the last rites again.

Then out of ‘Nam to Japan to the 106th in Yakoda, Japan – more surgeries. Then evac back to the States to Valley Forge – Army General Hospital in Pennsylvania for a year. More surgeries, occupational therapy, physical therapy. We used to call the physical therapist, physical terrorist – that’s before the term became popular. I learned to walk. Then into the VA where they have cared for me for practically half a century.

So what’s your point, Jerry? The point is I never paid a dime for any of that healthcare. Either when I was being cared for by the Department of Defense (DOD) or the VA. They are two separate government departments. Many people don’t realize that. Both are headed by members of the president’s cabinet, so we already have two federal healthcare systems.

At the age of 70 I am still walking on two legs – one of mine, one of yours.  Still working 40 hours a week, and if you run into my boss Ed Day, tell him working very hard for an old guy. Don’t mention giving me a raise unless you want to see him make weasel faces. He’s good at that.

The DOD runs dozens of hospitals and clinics around the world. The VA runs over 1,200 medical centers here in the States and has been doing that for about a century. They know what works and what doesn’t. Why not use their institutional knowledge and use their systems as a model or a skeleton to build on?

Or as more military bases close across the country, sell of the bases but keep the hospitals. Encourage or bribe doctors to person it – notice I didn’t say ‘man.’ Boy, am I becoming a 21st century guy.  

The military also has what they call, Tricare, which is insurance for retired military, and it works very well. We’ll see how long it takes President Trump to get healthcare through. Although it’s been 100 days already, it just got out of the Congress.

What’s hard? We have two systems of government healthcare already in place and an insurance system. Surely somebody in Congress knows about that.

Here’s another thought that my veteran brothers will gristle at. How about allowing non-veterans over a certain age to use the system that’s already in place? Face it – the number of veterans has been declining since the draft ended in 1973.  

When I came to this job in January, 30 years ago, we had nearly 30,000 veterans here in Rockland County. Now the veterans population has declined markedly to 11,000 – almost a 2/3 drop in numbers amidst steady population growth amongst the general public. 

The Montrose Hospital in Westchester opened in 1950 as a 2,000-bed hospital. Today they only have 200 beds sitting on a 180+ acres of northern Westchester real estate. The hospitals are running at 10 percent capacity and the boys and girls in Washington are going to close them now.

Would you rather have the VA start to close them? Or allow non-veterans over a certain age to keep them in place for you?