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The VA Scandal and Socialized Medicine


The Obama Administration has claimed to be outraged by the shabby treatment that veterans receive at the hands of the VA. But as Ron Paul points out this week, it's a bit unconvincing when the administration claims to care deeply about veterans while simultaneously sending American soldiers to receive third degree burns and mangled limbs in far away lands that are no threat whatsoever to the Americans who are paying all the bills. Indeed, as Lew Rockwell has noted, a great way to combat the abuse of veterans is to quit creating new veterans.

The other troubling aspect of this controversy is the VA health care system itself. Why is it that government is so interested in the direct provision of health care? Why is there not a government clothing program or a government cell phone program? That is, why does no one ever say "I'm off to the VA clothing store!"  or "I'm going to the VA cell phone store." Certainly clothing and communications devices are pretty basic and necessary.

If one felt that veterans deserved some sort of lifelong benefit for military work, one could simply provide veterans with a stipend that they could use to procure health care. But this is not done. The reason for this of course is that by providing health care directly through VA health care and VA hospitals, government can more easily subsidize and favor certain corporations and other government contractors who provide drugs, equipment and services to VA providers. If veterans were simply given stipends, then the veterans themselves might choose the "wrong" (i.e., not-politically-favored) providers.

We see this same process in the food stamp program which is designed to subsidize agricultural interests. This is partly why the food stamp program is administered by the Ag department and not by Health and Human Services. Consequently, the real constituents of the VA are the corporate providers of health care supplies and services, not the veterans themselves. So who can be surprised when we find that the veterans are being treated like garbage? The political cost of doing so is quite low, while the political cost of running afoul of the corporate lobbyists who largely dictate VA contracts and services is quite high. Any intelligent VA official quickly figures out how to thrive in that system.

This is all classic socialism, of course. When a government bureaucracy controls vast amounts of resources,  the government quickly becomes the playground of large corporate interests who have the most to benefit from capturing the machinery that runs the bureaucracy. The problem with the VA is not the abuse of the system. The problem is that we've created a system that so easily abused, and which can so easily ruin the lives of those it is supposed to serve.

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for Mises Wire and The Austrian, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

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