VA's FutureColumnist Daniel Greenberg -- who regularly...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

VA's Future

Columnist Daniel Greenberg -- who regularly makes no secret of the fact that he would do away with the Veterans Affairs health-care system -- is at it again.

Mr. Greenberg (Opinion * Commentary, Sept. 30) asserts that VA's defined role in a nationally reformed system of medical services is the result of pure political pandering to America's veterans. He again tosses unattributed references to studies and reviews that point to alleged substandard and expensive VA health care.

To both notions I say, utter nonsense.

Changing the status quo and giving VA authority to compete for enrollees was actively sought. Neither I nor the veterans' organizations tarred by his faulty reasoning attempted to take the position that the VA system must remain untouched by reform or that its traditional and time-honored status as a funded federal program could not be tinkered with.

On the contrary, we as well as the president's health advisers see in VA an enormous resource that could serve as a national model for efficient high-quality managed care if freed of many arcane eligibility rules.

Add to that our role in training and educating a large pool of the nation's health-care professionals -- an impressive record of renowned research accomplishments that includes two Nobel prizes -- and the special expertise we have in clinical areas like spinal cord injury, post-traumatic stress and home-based hospital care.

VA's continued presence would not only ensure promised delivery of care to meet the nation's obligation to its veterans but would accrue to the benefit of our most pressing health-care problems.

Mr. Greenberg contends that VA's future obligation to compete with other health plans on an equal basis is likely to be a point of negotiation between veterans groups and the White House. If nothing else indicates how ill-informed he is, it is this concocted idea.

In fact, 14 national veterans organizations have heartily endorsed the basic concept of the president's plan. They and I are in total agreement that we must change with the times. The VA system clearly earned its way into the reform proposal and I, for one, can't wait to get started.

Jesse Brown

Washington

The writer is the secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Society at Fault

In his Oct. 5 column, "Making a Killing in Florida," Garry Wills notes that Floridians are purchasing guns in record numbers.

He attributes this phenomenon to "atavistic instinct" -- the "mythic status" of guns being "guarantors of individual safety," machoism and just plain stupidity.

What Mr. Wills fails to acknowledge is the perfectly logical reason why so many non-violent Americans are resorting to buying guns: Government has failed in its most basic constitutional responsibility, which is to protect the lives and property of American citizens.

Failed social experimentation, not the abundance of guns, is the cause for this breakdown in law and order.

As long as government rewards criminal behavior on grounds that society, rather than the individual, is at fault, criminal behavior will continue to flourish.

And when violent crime time and again threatens home and hearth, even the most gentle people will do whatever is necessary to protect themselves.

Pat Rybak

Glen Arm

Unwanted Help

My initial reaction to the Clintons' health care plan is to recommend that government stick to what it does best. Then I realized that what government does best is to usually make worse the object of its endeavor.

The government deems "sinful" the legal activities of smoking and drinking and levies additional taxes on them to discourage their practice. At the same time, it offers free condoms, birth control pills and needles, thereby subsidizing wanton sex and drug abuse.

The government deregulates the airline industry and air fares go down. It regulates cable TV and the rates go up.

The government's attempt to save the children in the Koresh compound from alleged child abuse and the presence of alleged illegal firearms results in the incineration of the children.

Please, spare us more government "help."

Dave Reich

Cockeysville

Sham Reform

The headline on Laura Lippman's welfare reform story (Oct. 4), while an accurate depiction of the state's current proposal, was inflammatory and misleading.

People on welfare don't need to be "prodded" like cattle to make them get a job; people on welfare who are able to work want to work; what they need are jobs that pay a living wage.

"Welfare reform" is a sham when it measures success by the number of people placed in jobs where earners still cannot provide food for their families without the help of charity.

One out of nine children in Maryland is hungry. The job status and household income of that child's caretakers are the primary risk factors for hunger.

It's just common sense: Feeding children comes first. Yet approximately one-third of households seeking assistance at Maryland soup kitchens and food pantries are working households.

In this context it is clear that the recommendations of the Governor's Commission on Welfare Policy offer no hope to Maryland's poorest children.

Work must pay. A living wage -- one that puts food on the table and pays the rent -- is the most effective "incentive" for moving people into the work force and assuring children's well-being.

And job creation has to begin inside disadvantaged communities and move forward in partnership with business, government and non-profits.

Have we forgotten that the swollen welfare rolls of recent years have virtually tracked permanent job losses in the state? Why isn't job creation considered to be a necessary component of "welfare reform"?

The commission's proposals do make sense as political and financial cost-containment measures. Yet the survival of our collective well-being as we think of it now can only be assured by ceasing to treat the poor and their children as expendable human resources, a problem for future generation of voters to grapple with.

Volunteers, clear some more hours on your calendars: If the commission's recommendations are put into effect, Maryland's soup kitchen and food pantries will need you more than ever.

Linda Eisenberg

Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Maryland Food Committee.

The Klan

I am writing in response to your news article of Sept. 23 concerning the Frederick County derby car painted with pro-KKK designs. According to the article, officials of the fair and the county decided to deal with the situation not by taking a firm stand against it, but rather, decided to ". . . not give them any publicity and keep this low-key."

While this statement was surely made under the assumption that the public at large is aware of the negative purposes of the Ku Klux Klan, it still reflects a policy which undermines city leaders and their duty as civic representatives.

As one mayoral candidate pointed out, the type of public fair at which the car was displayed and raced was "a family event," one which a variety of people attend. By choosing not to take action against this vehicle, Frederick's civil leaders have sent a clear message of tolerance.

By condoning this propaganda of hatred, the leaders seem to say that it is somehow acceptable, perhaps objectionable, but permissible in society, as simply another alternative viewpoint.

It is not. The KKK has long been a bastion of irrational hatreds and damaging prejudice. It is not just another fringe group of the '90s, expressing a political perspective, but a historically entrenched form of institutionalized hatreds, designed not to protect the rights of some, but to restrict and deny the rights of others. I find it highly ironic that the Maryland grand wizard feels secure about the future of this type of enterprise, claiming that it should be protected under the constitutional rights of free speech, when his organization exists for the express purpose of denying others their constitutional and human rights.

Although county leaders hope to de-emphasize the incident by denying it publicity, the car itself, and its appearance at a large public event was publicity enough. It is now the job of elected officials and fair coordinators to perform the tasks for which they were chosen. Particularly the political officials were chosen in order to preserve and protect the rights of all citizens, and to do whatever possible to facilitate the healthy functioning of their communities.

The pro-KKK vehicle represents everything which is antithetical to the healthy functioning of a democratic society. It symbolizes the efforts of a few to control and take away basic rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, from those who fairly deserve them.

Elected officials cannot stand back and hope that unpleasant displays of hatred will go away if they are ignored. They must stand for what they were elected for, and prevent the spread of this propaganda of hatred.

Kathyrn Markham

Columbia

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