Tuesday, August 25, 2009
VA's "Your Life, Your Choices" a non-issue for veterans
Over the weekend, cable news pundits bashed the continued use of VA's end-of-life care planning manual, "Your Life, Your Choices," mislabeling the handbook as "Obama's Death Book for Veterans." AMVETS would like to set the record straight on this handbook, which has been in use with the VA for more than a decade.
"Your Life, Your Choices" is a document designed to help veterans draft a living will to determine how they will be cared for, should they be unable to make decisions for themselves. The document is very similar to documents offered by major health care providers across the U.S., including the sections dealing with end-of-life care. The book was originally issued in 1997. In 2007, the Bush Administration commissioned a panel to review the book. The panel overwhelmingly praised the manual's benefits and decided to continue circulation. The VA has decided to review "Your Life, Your Choices" as a matter of routine, but the handbook remains in publication today and VA officials continue to list it as a viable free resource. To read the latest version of "Your Life, Your Choices," Click Here.
Last week, an op-ed was published in the Wall Street Journal by Jim Towey, founder of the non-profit "Aging With Dignity." Towey's group disagreed with the continued circulation of "Your Life, Your Choices," purporting that President Obama has recommissioned the handbook. This assertion is false. "Your Life, Your Choices" was continually circulated under the Bush Administration. Plus, Towey's motives in publishing his misleading op-ed may not be entirely benevolent. "Aging With Dignity" has its own guidebook to end-of-life care called "Five Wishes," which is available for sale on Towey's Web site. This mess is the latest act of political grandstanding, which has derailed critical work on veterans' issues.
In the op-ed and on Fox News, critics took many passages from "Your Life, Your Choices" out of context, leading viewers to believe that the book advocated assisted suicide and "pulling the plug" on aging veterans. Both of these assertions are, again, false. The book outlines all aspects of end-of-life care, including religious obligations. It advises veterans to discuss end-of-life care with their religious leaders and to suggests ways to have difficult conversations with loved ones.
There is one line in the book that addresses assisted suicide by pointing out that such procedures are illegal and irrelevant to the contents of the book, since living wills are for people who can no longer speak for themselves.
Towey's argument that Obama reissued the book is a flat-out lie and the continued propagation of this message is yellow journalism. This kind of red herring distracts all of us from the important work that needs to be done. Veterans' organizations such as AMVETS are sworn to protect the best interests of our veterans, and arguing over this is a waste of our time.
New veterans are returning from the front lines in the Global War on Terrorism. With these new conflicts come new challenges that VSOs must address, such as PTSD, TBI, women veterans' health, claims-processing issues, employment and re-employment rights, education benefits, transition assistance--the list goes on. In the current Congress, more than 400 individual pieces of legislation have been introduced that could have an effect on the veterans' community and the Obama Administration has proposed significant changes to modernize the VA. This is where our energies must be focused--not on a manufactured issue designed to stir public dissent and sell books.