Friday Bag o’ Blessings

bag of blessingsI’m not trying to pile on, but I think Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki did the right thing in resigning today, and that President Obama was right to accept his resignation. In the days since I speculated Shinseki might not be the right person for the job, my negative feelings had solidified into frank opposition. Perhaps Shinseki, as he claimed, felt genuine anger, but his calm manner of speaking and neutral facial expression during public appearances said otherwise. He came across as a remote, hands-off, above-the-fray executive, one easily duped by scheming underlings.

So good then. Now the housecleaning begins, and I hope presidential and congressional interest doesn’t shift to a new and distracting scandal too soon, because the housecleaning will last only as long as the pressure’s on. The VA health care system is one of the last great fortresses of the traditional self-protective, entrenched, change-resistant civil service system. The minute the heat’s off, they’ll be back to their old tricks.

And what’s this about bonuses for VA hospital chiefs? When did we start giving cash bonuses to public employees? Didn’t it occur to anyone that bonuses would become a corrupting influence, and that people would lie, cheat, and steal to pad their paychecks? A top-level SES (senior executive service) civil servant … which I presume is what most of these VA hospital heads are … makes close to $200,000 a year, about what a military four-star earns. Military leaders don’t get bonuses, and neither should civil servants. Jesus, no wonder things got so out of control.

Perhaps the era of brick & mortar VA hospitals has run its course. There are just too many disabled vets needing medical care … too many for a network of government-run hospitals and clinics to handle. I suspect even if the number of VA hospitals were doubled, and somehow enough doctors, physician assistants, and nurses could be convinced to work for Uncle Sam for less pay than they could get on the outside, we still couldn’t come close to meeting the demand.

I won’t be surprised if something like this becomes the new standard for veteran medical care: all qualifying veterans (two or more years of service) will be covered by Tricare insurance, just like military retirees. Disabled vets will get it for free. Healthy vets will pay a proportional cost, just as military retirees do (as a military retiree, Tricare for my wife and I cost between $400-$500 a year, which was extremely reasonable). Tricare, if you don’t know, is medical insurance (very good medical insurance compared to all but the very best civilian plans). When vets reach Social Security age, they’ll transition to a combination of Medicare and Tricare for Life. Tricare for Life is essentially Medicare Plan B supplemental coverage, which pays for almost everything basic Medicare doesn’t cover. Disabled vets, again, will get it for free; vets in good health (like me) will pay a small monthly premium (like me). The civilian health care system should be able to absorb all but the most disabled vets; a smaller VA hospital system could be retained for the most severely wounded.

I can see it happening, and I think it would work: transition most current VA patients and backlogged vets to the successful, semi-single-payer medical insurance plan military retirees currently use.

And then, eventually, single-payer medical insurance for everyone, veterans and feather merchants alice (bwa-ha-ha-ha!).

There, wasn’t that easy? Next problem? I’m here to help. How about mass shootings? Sure, let’s go there.

Homicidal maniacs, who fortunately number only a fraction of a per cent of the mentally ill, will continue to murder. But if they don’t have easy access to guns they won’t be able to murder nearly as many people. It’s goddamn hard to kill someone with a hammer or a knife, let alone a bunch of people all at once. But guns make it easy.

Look, no one disagrees that people, not guns, kill people. But people with guns kill a lot of people, people they wouldn’t kill if they didn’t have guns. The answer is gun control, and it’s a blindingly obvious answer. It’s obvious even to the gun nuts, which is why they fight any and all attempts to restrict access to guns as hard as they do. They know that good sense will eventually win out, and they want to stave it off as long as possible. I’m mailing my senators and congressman today, asking them to stand up to the NRA by passing sensible gun control laws, as so many Western nations have successfully done. The Onion nailed it with their post-UCSB headline: ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

I was in a Taco Tote two years ago when a dozen pistol-carrying men came in and sat down at a large table. They were civilians, not law enforcement personnel. I suppose I witnessed an early iteration of what has become the open carry movement, so much in the news lately. Well, they were assholes then and they’re bigger assholes now. I won’t patronize any business that tolerates open carry on its premises. If I see it happening, I’ll be calling 911 on my way out the door.

There’s no way to know if a man carrying a gun into a restaurant or store is a good guy or a bad guy. What’s the safe thing to assume? That he’s a bad guy, of course! Sensible people will make themselves scarce, and pronto. Do these jerks really think they’re “educating” people? Do they think they come across as anything other than bullying assholes? Is this how Americans want to live? Are you a Fargo fan? Picture yourself as Lester Nygaard, perpetually flinching whenever Sam Hess makes a fist. How much longer are you going to put up with this shit, folks?

On the subject of putting up with shit, there’s very little of it in my life right now, and I’m thankful. The weather is great, Donna and I are happy and healthy, the pets love us, our kids are okay, and the cars are running well. Donna had a a great time in California earlier this month, and she’s off to a sewing retreat at Big Bear in early June. I’m looking forward to some good bicycle and motorcycle riding this weekend. The propane tanks for the barbie are full, the pool is spotless and sparkling blue, our grandson is coming to visit in a couple of weeks, and we’re looking forward to some quality patio time. Long may these good days last. God bless us every one!

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