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How Agent Orange Can Lead Us to a National Health Service

Politico had a great headline story yesterday morning (Monday), “The bill for Agent Orange comes due”. For those that don’t remember, Vietnam was a guerrilla war and the other guys were hiding in the jungle most the time, so we had to destroy the jungle. That’s a lot of destruction and chemical “defoliants” were selected to do this, the most common being Agent Orange. Congress agreed in 1991 that Vietnam Vets should be compensated for their illnesses and yesterday Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki approved an expansion of veteran’s benefits that will

“cost at least $42 billion over the next 10 years. The VA estimates 349,000 individuals are already receiving Agent Orange disability benefits, and that number could soon reach 500,000 — or one out of every four surviving Vietnam veterans by the VA’s count."

This a lot of money and contributing to the VA’s unfunded liability in its compensation and pensions account of over 1.3 Trillion dollars, according to the VA. (Think fast, how many zeros are in a trillion?) This is a problem for many, especially since,

“It’s a world turned upside down from decades ago when returning soldiers had to fight to get attention for deadly lymphomas linked to the herbicide. Now the frailties of men in their 60s — prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease — lead the list of qualified Agent Orange disabilities, and the result has been an explosion in claims and the government’s liability.”

What does this have to do with health care policy? It is simple, this conversation about benefits is wasting our time. Agent Orange, not to mention other Gulf War illnesses, are going to cost us a fortune, and we are legally and morally obligated to pay for it. While we are at it, why not just do that good Christian thing and treat all of our sick citizens decently and get it over with?

Once given a mandate, the VA does a great job treating our veterans in a prototype single payer national health care system. While a single payer “Medicare for all” might be preferred by many, the VA system does demonstrate that a Red, White and Blue National Health Care System can be made to work Why not expand it to cover anyone who wants to join?

(A longer version of this with ranting and references is at icefishroad)

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