Niagara Gazette

Columns

February 5, 2013

CONFER: Honor veterans with vouchers

Niagara Gazette — When sending off our men and women to fight for our defense or interests abroad where they face the barrel of a gun or travel along bomb-strewn roads as a course of their daily duties, it only makes sense that upon their return we give our warriors some sort of reward since most of them are paid peanuts for the risks they take. It isn’t unreasonable to say that we should offer publicly-funded healthcare to our veterans. They deserve it and it should be our responsibility to maintain and improve the health of bodies and minds that were scarified for us.

But, the current way of doing things – clinics, hospitals and doctors maintained by Veterans Affairs (VA) – shouldn’t be the only way. By following that path, we’ve achieved the cruelest of ironies: After they have survived wars and occupations overseas, the health system that was meant to protect our veterans at home could ultimately end up being the very thing that kills them.

Consider what has happened in our own backyard. A routine inspection discovered that 716 vets who were served by the Buffalo VA Medical Center could have been exposed to HIV or hepatitis from reused insulin pens. Hospital staff did not follow the necessary protocol and failed to dispose of the one-time use pens, which in turn created a health risk similar to that of sharing a syringe.

This is not the first HIV scare to plague the VA and its patients. In early 2009, some 10,000 patients from VA hospitals in three states (Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee) were put at risk of contracting the disease after unsterilized colonoscopy equipment was repeatedly used. After checking every one of the individuals exposed to the dirty tubes, it was found that 16 of them were infected — 10 with hepatitis and six with “unspecified infections.” That’s 16 too many.

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