Thursday, February 14, 2008

Skewed priorities?

Oh, hot diggety.

Our esteemed Senator Tester (and, perhaps, Senator Baucus) has convinced the HMFIC of the Veterans Administration -- Mr. Peake -- to pay our humble state a little visit. First, he'll be here in Billings at least long enough to hold a meeting; following that, he'll be heading out to our one-and-only VA hospital (where we can get such exotic treatments as eye exams, actual hospital care, and the like) at Fort Harrison (which is located 'in' Helena), a mere 230 miles from Billings. That's fairly close, by Montana standards, but still makes for a bothersome trip if the care one needs is relatively minor or brief.

Here in Billings, Mr. Peake will be facing us vets in a conference room at the Billings Hilton. I readily admit that I don't know what process is involved in getting a meeting room from a hotel, but I'd be highly surprised if it didn't involve financial considerations. So the thing that comes to my mind is to wonder: couldn't the VA have found a cheaper venue? Or (as I suspect) is Mr. Peake actually staying at the Hilton, and perhaps getting the use of the meeting room for 'free'? If either of those is the case, I figure that pretty much demonstrates where the real priorities are in the VA: funding that could (should!) be going toward taking care of veterans is being pissed away.

By way of illustration, I have an appointment at Ft. Harrison for an eye exam. The last such exam I had lasted all of half an hour, as I recall. So here's the situation: I'm supposed to drive the 230 miles to Ft. Harrison (possibly being reimbursed travel expenses at the princely rate of 28.5 cents/mile) -- that's 3 hours travel each way for something that's going to take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Curiously, if Mr. Peake were to stay in a Holiday Inn, I'm fairly confident that the price difference would be more than sufficient to pay a local optometrist to do the exam and (say) fax the results to Ft. Harrison -- something that I daresay would be more cost- and time-efficient all the way around. Or is it asking too much for gummit officials to put their supposed 'clients' ahead of their own perquisites and 'needs'?