Friday, March 16, 2018

Allow veterans to choose their healthcare

After sending 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 benefit since most of them are paid little 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 the bodies and minds that were scarified for us.

But, the current way of doing things – clinics and hospitals 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.

For a glaring example, look at the track record of the Buffalo VA Medical Center.
In 2013, a routine inspection discovered more than 700 vets 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.

In 2017, in excess of 500 veterans were potentially exposed to those diseases and more after improperly cleaned colonoscopy equipment was inserted into their bodies. Not surprisingly, Buffalo’s officials didn’t learn from a 2009 crisis of the same that put 10,000 patients from VA hospitals in the south at risk.

Then there was last week’s headline: A report issued by the VA’s Inspector General gave an account of a 2016 tragedy during which a man suffered cardiac arrest and rather than try to resuscitate him the staff decided instead to declare him deceased. The details of the incident weren’t reported to higher-ups until almost a year later.

Were all of this to happen in the private sector, doctors, nurses, and hospitals would lose their employment and their licenses. Facilities would close, some people might even be jailed. Not in the VA system. It is, after all, a federal bureaucracy. When crises happen in the VA very few heads roll, some guilty parties keep their jobs or are “reassigned”, and reforms are slow to come if they do at all. The VA has no reason or will to change because it’s a monopoly. They have a captive audience and there is no competition.

One of the greatest aspects of free markets and free choice is competition…the dueling participants (individuals or organizations) will always aspire to offer and/or acquire the best, most diverse and most effective products or services possible. Without that motivation, limitations and suspect quality rule the day.

We need to allow our vets some of that freedom (after all, didn’t they fight for freedom?) and give them the ability to choose the care they want, from who they want, and from where they want. They shouldn’t be limited to a single source. Let them get their care from a place of their choosing, be it a VA medical center, Kalieda, Catholic Health or any number of specialists and clinics.

The best way to achieve this is through some sort of voucher system whereby veterans would receive government-funded insurance or their providers would receive publicly-paid reimbursement. It’s a simple concept that would allow the vets to escape the ills of the VA system while pursuing care at some of America’s best facilities.

It’s been tried, but poorly. In 2014, in response to 35 vets who died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA, the Veterans Choice Act was introduced. That was a misnomer for most of the $2 billion bill was spent on building 26 new VA facilities and hiring more doctors and nurses. Only a relatively small portion of the bill granted vouchers and, even then, a vet had to live more than 40 miles from the nearest clinic to utilize the benefit.           

A truly effective voucher system would not be dissimilar to Medicaid, through which recipients receive stellar care and benefits that far rival what most privately-insured individuals get. If that Cadillac insurance system can work so well for non-contributors, why shouldn’t something similar – or better – work for those who did contribute to the greatness of our nation?  

Simply put, choice and safety are two things that we can - and should - offer our veterans. What we do now affords neither. It’s time for a change…why expose them to ongoing health scares – on domestic soil, no less -- after everything they’ve done for us? 

From the 19 March 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Soccer moms gone wild

Before retiring from the sport a few years back I played in men’s and coed softball leagues for almost 20 years. For more than three-quarters of those 200-plus games I was the team captain and not once in that role did I ever challenge or argue with an umpire. I was understanding and accepting of their calls, even if I didn’t agree with them.

My rather accommodating view on the issue of officiating was this: They are working men trying to bring in some extra money for their families; they strive to be fair and balanced; they’re human and make mistakes; and, above all, if one call is actually going to ruin the outcome of a game, my team and I had better play harder and better so the margin between victory and defeat isn’t so tenuous.

It helps that I was raised properly by my parents to show respect and work hard, two components of good sportsmanship.   

Unfortunately, too many kids playing sports today aren’t shown that sort of guidance and the parents who are supposed to be their role models offer the antithesis to my approach to referees and umpires.

To see that in all its glory attend a baseball, basketball, football, or hockey game in a developmental league or at a high school. The screams, taunts, and vulgarity that pour from the mouths of alleged adults in front of children (theirs and everyone else’s) is unsettling. Officials are put under the microscope and subjected to behavior that is uncalled for, unnecessary, and unbecoming.

Who are these parents? Are they helicopter mom and dads who are overprotective of their babies – even if their babies are 16 years of age? Are they dads who had a middling high school sports career and are now living vicariously through their spawn? Or, are they the overzealous football parents who think that their sons are worth a look by Division I schools and pro scouts?

Do the reasons even matter? No, they don’t; their actions are boorish and there’s no excuse or justification for them.

And, there’s probably no boundaries or end to them, either, as Western New York sports fans found out recently.

In a Section V girls’ basketball playoff game between Red Creek and Byron-Bergen, a Red Creek player was ejected from the game for two intentional fouls, the second of which was a disqualifying foul during which she kicked an opponent as they fell to the court. Under the rules of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, a player ejected from a game is ineligible to play in the next game, which saw Red Creek going up against Notre Dame in a postseason affair.

Any self-respecting player, coach, and school would accept that, learn from their mistakes and adjust their game plan and preparation accordingly for the next game.

Not so in this case.

Rather than doing that, Red Creek’s basketball community (an amalgamation of players, parents, coaches, and administrators) decided to contest the in-game ruling and final ruling in an almost unprecedented fashion…they took it to the courts.

Somehow, a State Supreme Court judge, obviously with nothing more important to adjudicate, ruled in favor of the Red Creek player and suspended her suspension. She was able to play in the next game. Fortunately, Red Creek got their just desserts as they were upset by Notre Dame.

What does this mean for the future of athletics in the Empire State?

Can a referee be sued for, say, affecting a kid’s future earnings or scholarships by preventing him from making the most of a potential college coach being in the stands? Can a bad strike call caught on camera cause the courts to terminate an umpire due to gross negligence? Will lawyers and judges micromanage the undertakings of every sectional leadership body? Will coaches be brought to trial for benching a player?  

It sounds silly to even suggest all of that. But, the reality is what Red Creek did sounds silly. Yet, somehow, it actually happened.

Sports madness takes place at locales like Red Creek where it makes the news. But, it also in happens in its own, less-publicized way in places like Lockport where the little league umpires are berated on a regular basis. Those umpires….they are 14 years old.

“Soccer moms gone wild” sounds like it could be the name of a racy video. But, it’s not. It’s what grade school and high school athletics have come to. Things have to change. We can’t let those few vocal and now legally-creative parents ruin sportsmanship -- and sports -- for everyone else, especially the kids -- theirs and ours.   

From the 12 March 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Scouting offers the counterculture to hate

Too many young men in America are broken. They are consumed by hate. Their lives are devoid of love – they aren’t receiving it, nor are they giving. 

Vicious teenage boys mentally torture their peers in ways we never would have imagined as kids. That relentless needling has caused many of the bullied to end their lives, seeing death as the only way to escape the brutality.   

Boys – and men behaving like boys – have mistreated women badly for too long. The much-welcomed #MeToo movement has been changing the power structure and culture of abuse in business, government, academia, and entertainment decades after women were allegedly granted power through the women’s lib movement. How did what these women are fighting become normal behavior for so many men?

Then there’s the issues of school shootings and gang violence. It’s always young men pulling the triggers and indiscriminately killing their peers. It takes an evil soul to want to inflict such carnage on those you grew up with and shared the schools, playgrounds, and streets with.

And, we can’t forget the hatred towards self that is manifested in the opiate crisis. Just a few years ago, the demographic of the opiate addict was a 38 to 42 year-old father who got hooked on pain killers as an unfortunate outcome of a work injury. Today, it’s 18 to 22 year kids who pick up the drugs for kicks, despite the incredible amount of public awareness on the ills of heroin.

How do we as a society overcome all of the hate?

We don’t seem to be doing a good job of that at all.  

That’s because we teach and preach to the negative. School administrators, the media, public figures, and parents routinely say “don’t do this” or “don’t do that.” It’s rare that we deliver messages of personal growth and betterment to the positive with a far more powerful “do this” or “do that.”

It seems that we know what constitutes hate, but we haven’t created a counterculture to it.

Or have we?

The Boy Scouts of America has always offered such an alternative.

To simplify the goals of the organization, the purpose of Scouting is to help create better husbands, fathers, volunteers, and leaders. That is done through life-changing personal development exercises in the form of any number of fun, engaging experiences from camping to merit badges to service projects.

While participating in these activities and living their lives outside of the pack or troop, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts follow some simple yet effective rules that define the parameters of personal behavior while serving as a guiding light for the love of mankind and the betterment of the world for everyone.

Consider the Scout Motto (Be prepared), the Scout Slogan (Do a good turn daily), the points of the Scout Law (A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent) and the Scout Oath (On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight).

Those are some pretty powerful moral and personal codes to live by.

We need more of that in America, but it hasn’t been happening. In recent years, membership in Scouting has been around 2.3 million, down from a peak of 5.2 million in 1960. Boys haven’t been exposed to the program like they once were because of the changed make-ups of families, busy moms and dads, the plethora of alternative youth programs (sports, band), electronic media becoming a babysitter, and the disinterest some parents have in what they perceive to be “traditional values.”

A resurgence in Scouting could be what saves the American male. Scouts don’t make up the abusers and killers who give men a really bad name. Hate isn’t in a scout’s vocabulary; instead, he learns and lives by love. Scouts are the ones aiding the oppressed, saving lives, helping to build up their communities, and making the world a better place.

Just take a look at some of the results locally. The Iroquois Trail Council, which oversees 2,300 scouts in eastern Niagara and the GLOW counties had another banner year of results in 2017: 51 scouts completed dramatic, world-changing Eagle projects; our boys contributed more than 50,000 hours of their time to community service projects; and they stocked local food pantries with 12.5 tons of goods.

Those are just a few of the trackable victories. There are countless more that don’t show up in statistics like the things these boys and teens do in their day-to-day lives to ensure their classmates, families, and neighbors have far better days on this planet.

We need more young men like them. If there was ever a way to beat hate in America, it’s with Scouting.   

From the 05 March 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News