Unhealthy Skeptisim -VA and the Media
The Department of Veterans Affairs was back in the news this spring—and, as usual, the news wasn’t good. In March, Donald Trump fired VA Secretary David Shulkin, who had come under fire for misusing public money. His proposed replacement, White House physician Ronny Jackson, then withdrew his nomination after reports emerged of his being drunk on the job, handing out pain-killers to staffers, and indulging in other bad behavior. In May, responding to perceived systemic care problems, the House and Senate passed the VA Mission Act to allow veterans more access to private-sector doctors and hospitals.
Reporters were ready to put these stories “in context.” They reminded audiences that the VA was, as the New York Times put it, “one of the largest, most complex and troubled cabinet agencies in the federal government.” Other outlets described it as “scandal ridden” and subject to “scathing reports” of dangerously long wait times and substandard care. In an episode explaining the Jackson scandal, the Daily, the Times’s popular daily news podcast, repeated the claim that “forty veterans died while they were waiting for medical care” at the Phoenix VA.
But here’s a different story about the VA, from the exact same time period, that major media outlets didn’t bother to report: In March, researchers at the nonprofit research organization RAND published a study revealing the gross inadequacies of New York State’s health care system to effectively treat veteran patients. A month later, RAND found that the quality of VA care was generally better than private health care. These were just the latest of scores of studies that have come to the same conclusion for nearly two decades now.
How can this be? How can we all know that the VA health system is a disaster, when study after study shows the opposite—that when it comes to actually providing care for nine million veterans, it outperforms the competition?