President Obama's administration has suggested cutting VA benefits by requiring veterans to purchase private insurance, then allowing Veterans Affairs to bill the insurance company instead of paying for the costs via "promised" federal funds. I actually have two points of view on this, each coming down on opposite sides.
by Nick Coons
First, many are claiming that this is backing out of a promise. Soldiers that "fight for our freedom" are entitled to be taken care of by us, by those who have asked to have their freedom defended. I don't agree with this premise (which I'll get to in a moment), but I will say that this is a bad place to start cutting spending -- here's why. It would result in an annual savings of about half a billion dollars, among a budget of several trillion dollars (I'm not even going to try and pretend to give you an accurate federal spending figure), this amounts to about 1/100th of a percent of overall federal spending. If you make $50k/year, and you decide to pass on a cup of Starbucks coffee -- just once -- that's the savings we're realizing.
If Obama is serious about cutting spending, then he'll bring back all of the troops in all 130+ countries around the world, he'll advocate the abolishment of the Department of Education and leave states and local school districts to set their own priorities. He'll eliminate the Department of Energy, turning control of energy production over to the intelligent free market (unless we like the idea of using corn for fuel). And he'll eliminate the useless Department of Homeland Security (this one should be obvious). But Obama isn't serious about cutting federal spending or the size of government, so he won't do any of those things.
From a principled stand, I am in agreement with this idea, but probably not for the same reason Obama is. It seems taboo to question "supporting the troops", such a vague term that no one cares to define. There are those that argue that military personnel are selflessly defending our way of life. Our way of life is not threatened in such a way that a military can preserve it. I don't endorse the methods used by the current or past administrations in supposedly defending my rights when they are the worst offenders of my rights. Had I any say in the matter, I would not have wanted troops deployed outside the US to "fight terrorism." And now I have no say in paying someone else's medical bills who was injured doing something that I didn't ask them to do and didn't want them to do in my name. The only ones that have an obligation to any promise are those that made the promise.
But this isn't why Obama wants to cut VA spending. For him, it's just a political dance.
Now, if you want a libertarian-principled approach that would allow wounded veterans to receive the medical treatment they need, then turn it over to the market. Reduce taxes to the general population. Given that there are millions of people that support the troops, let them do so of their own free will by donating to a newly-established charity specifically for that purpose. Abolish the Veterans Affairs, and let veterans in need of medical treatment receive it through a far more efficient free market system, which is funded not at the point of a gun like today, but instead by the generosity of millions who aren't shy in their proclamations of supporting the troops.
(Added March 26, 2009: Some readers have written in misunderstanding my point. Please see Obama's VA Cuts - Part 2 for clarification.)
Obama's VA Cuts - Part 2 - Nick Coons
President Obama is a Serial Apologist for Bush's Torture Policy - Jim Iannuzo
The Conceit of Centralized Health Care - Richard Sutton