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Opinion Editorial

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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The first TV remote control back in 1950 was named "Lazy Bones." That should have been a tip-off of things to come. Flipping between test patterns on a small black and white television, would eventually lead to easier access to all kinds of information.

Another invention that rivals the significance of “Lazy Bones” is the pocket or hand-held calculator that came onto the scene in the early 1970s. Prior to that, the portable device for computing was the slide rule, but that took too much brain power just to figure out how it worked. With a calculator, one doesn't need math skills. To figure out the sum of one times one, just mash some buttons.

Every age, in its own right could (at the time) be considered the “information age.” The difference today, is the quickness and ease information can be retrieved. Knowledge or the facsimile thereof, is both figuratively and literally at one's fingertips which opens the door for binge data consumption. It's not unlike overeating. Instead of peanut-covered M&Ms in a dish on a coffee table, it's a mobile device in your hand, or a computer on a desk with high-speed internet access. You can't just eat one piece of digital candy.

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No need to wonder. Just look around you. It’s happened already. Thanks to an insidious partnership between Google and the National Security Agency (NSA) that grows more invasive and more subtle with every passing day, “we the people” have become little more than data consumer commodities to be bought, sold and paid for over and over again.

With every smartphone we buy, every GPS device we install, every Twitter, Facebook, and Google account we open, every frequent buyer card we use for purchases, and every credit and debit card we use to pay for our transactions, we’re helping Corporate America build a dossier for its government counterparts on who we know, what we think, how we spend our money, and how we spend our time.

What’s worse, this for-profit surveillance scheme, far larger than anything the NSA could capture just by tapping into our phone calls, is made possible by our consumer dollars and our cooperation. All those disclaimers you scroll though without reading them, only to quickly click on the “Agree” button at the end so you can get to the next step— downloading software, opening up a social media account, adding a new app to your phone or computer: those signify your written consent to having your activities monitored, recorded and shared.

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I'm a big fan of top whatever lists. Usually grouped in multiples of five, the lists make for a quick read and a fast track to quasi authority on subjects ranging from the smartest dog breeds to the most fattening fast food entrees. I particularly enjoy reading about the worst cities in the U.S., because I know Detroit is going to be at the top, and for some perverse reason, I think that's funny.

With lists, it's usually read it/forget it, then move on to new minutiae. However, there's one list in particular that I find myself referencing on a regular basis. Titled “5 Top Regrets of Dying Patients,” it's a compilation of interviews with people during their final stage of life. If any group should have insight on missed opportunities, it's those who know they have run out of time. While the data is from the dying, the target audience is the rest of us who still think we will live forever.

 

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published: 10/18/2013
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