25th Annual Leaf Lookers GEMBOREE :: Friday, October 17 - Sunday, October 19 at the Macon County Community Building

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Opinion Editorial

Former member of the U.S. House weighs in.

Like other federal scandals before it, the mess involving VA hospitals has followed a well-trod path. First comes the revelation of misdoing. Then comes the reaction: a shocked public, an administration on the defensive, grandstanding members of Congress. Finally, major reform bills get introduced, debated, then put aside when the heat dies down, or the target agency gets more money thrown at the problem.

With the VA, we’re at the reform part of the cycle. The House and Senate have each passed their own legislation to fix the VA’s health system, including a massive infusion of money — at least $50 billion a year — to allow veterans to seek private health care. Fiscal watchdogs are crying foul, and the measures have ignited a furious debate over whether Congress should cut other programs. In its rush to address public outrage, Congress is proposing dramatic changes that could have benefited from more thorough consideration.

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Recently, Seattle passed a law making their city's minimum wage $15 an hour. On an annual basis, that matches the starting pay of a North Carolina school teacher. The Seattle city council voted unanimously for the wage legislation that will be phased in over a period of three to seven years, depending on the employer's size. The rate is also pegged to inflation, with automatic adjustments. "With inaction at the state and national levels, it's time for cities to demonstrate bold and necessary leadership to address income inequality," commented one of Seattle’s councilmen.

The federal minimum wage was born during the Great Depression as a wage floor with the rate set at 25 cents an hour or roughly $4 an hour in today's money. The push now is to transform the minimum wage to a standard or “living” wage that will, in theory, achieve “income equality.”

The shift in terminology from minimum wage to “living wage” is ingenious. How could anyone deny someone a living wage? That's like denying them life itself, isn't it? Who wants minimum, it's an inferior thing. Greece's $5 an hour or Mexico's $5 a day are for folks who don't know what living is.

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Have we lost free speech in America? Our First Amendment right for all Americans is free speech. Protesters, journalists Civil-rights advocates, street preachers and all Americans have enjoyed the right of free speech.

Free speech gets on our nerves if the language doesn't fit our philosophy, religious teachings, traditions or political views.

Free speech can inspire, encourage, help, teach and motivate but it can also tear down, torch, blaspheme and incite people to anger. Words can bless and words can burn. It only takes a spark to get a fire going. The tongue is a powerful weapon and should be used with caution. While we are guaranteed free speech we understand that our speech will likely generate or provoke responses that will either be kind, hostile or apathetic.

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Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki has fallen on his sword by tendering his resignation. President Obama says he “takes responsibility” but believes, Shinseki had become a “distraction.” The current controversy surrounding VA hospitals including the alleged practice of delaying vital patient care, won't disappear as fast as changing a nameplate on an office door.

It's time for the system itself to retire. Of course, the solution isn't about eliminating medical care for veterans, but rather about changing the delivery vehicle. Depending on your outlook toward government, we should strive for the most efficient, or the least inefficient system possible.

The A-Team's Hannibal Smith was famous for saying, “I love it when a plan comes together.” The VA medical system is anything but a plan. It has evolved/mutated over time, especially in the aftermath of various wars. Addressing the medical needs of veterans can be traced all the way back to the American Revolution when pensions were established for disabled soldiers. However, other than a wooden leg, there wasn't a whole lot of medical treatment options available in the beginning. What has emerged today, is a twisted hybrid, driven (and hidden) at times more by political considerations than the medical needs of our veterans.

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