Monday, November 18, 2013

Veterans Policy and Justification

In reading the literature on Veterans Policy, I am struck by the transcendent tone of obligation and debt in terms of moral or ethical considerations. Hence, there is little to be said about what to do in a time of sequestration (VA wasn't seq'd), rising Veterans needs, and budget stringency (since we don't seem willing to changes taxes).

My guess is that there will be a series of "scandals": veterans and providers scheming and gaming the system, the development of notions of the truly deserving and the not-deserving veteran, and the equivalent of the $600 screwdriver. Moreover, there will be pressure to put all governmental employees and "entitlers" into the ACA framework. Veterans preferences may well survive, but again there may be a division of the good and bad veterans, the truly disabled and the malingerers. I am not saying this is good. I suspect that there is enough stuff in the system to support this sort of "scandal." Everyone is for veterans, I am told. But not if the own non-veteran ox is gored too much.

What is needed now is a justification for the VA and veterans benefits that is not part of the "entitlement culture," as David Petraeus puts it. [Entitlements, and Tax Expenditures, are likely to be places where budgets will be touched, since they are large, are said to be "out of control."] Nowadays, the new term of art is "investment" in our future. Hence the argument should be:

DoD produces veterans. Many are enhanced by their experience, but many are injured, and some are surely mixed. But DoD does not deal with what it produces. The VA and nonprofits (if they are not scams) take this on. Their job is to increase the productivity of Americans who otherwise limited. Not only get people back in the workforce, but also into community life. These are not benefits for veterans, rather they are investments made by VA/nonprofits. For veterans, the goal is to be free of the VA if possible, not to receive benefits. For some veterans, maybe many, this is not possible, but how can they be more on their own with backup as needed. If there is a sense that compensation is needed for DoD induced injury, DoD ought be taking that on.

There is a veterans industry of those who claim to help veterans and their families. That industry may well be doing good, but it probably is more corrupt that is desirable. And the interest is in the bottom line for the firm or nonprofit, rather than the veterans themselves. You surely can do well by doing good, so I am not saying that all is awful.

The idea is to shift Veterans Policy from entitlement to investment, from benefits to proper care and support. Disability is the worst possible framework in which to deal with this, since there is a long tradition of scheming and gaming, and lots of real disabilities to be sure. Actually, probably there should be much more research and development on what works and on innovations. That will be cheap compared to the costs it saves.