Saturday, September 27, 2008

V is For Villain

Candidate for U.S. Senate Bruce Lunsford seems drawn to the letter "V." His name remains synonomous with his failed company, Vencor, and its scandalous treatment of not only shareholders but comatose patients. Lunsford likes to boast that his next corporation, Ventas, arose from Vencor's ashes. And now, a television spot from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell introduces us to yet another Lunsford company, Valor Healthcare.

Valor is in the business of winning federal government contracts to provide medical care for veterans at community based outpatient clinics. It does not, at this point, operate any such clinics in Kentucky. Bruce Lunsford served as Valor's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer and according to his financial disclosure form, remains on its Board of Directors.

Veterans have complained about Valor providing substandard care at its clinics in Arkansas and Texas. In the McConnell ad, veterans, including from Vietnam and World War II, describe their first-hand experience with Valor, and as with Vencor, it's not a flattering picture of Lunsford's company.

Valor's federal contract apparently pays the company a flat rate for each veteran it enrolls, regardless of their medical needs. Consequently, the company has a strong financial incentive to do as little as possible for the veterans. Valor, in short, can (and apparently does) increase its profits by decreasing the amount of care it provides. Some of its veterans complain that Valor denied them needed treatments and medicines to save money.

All Americans should be outraged when our government fails to provide our veterans with the care they need. These soldiers have earned our respect and thanks, and a grateful country conveys that by giving them state of the art medical treatment. That's not just good policy; it's a moral imperative. It applies with full force whether the government is rendering the care or, as with Valor, the care is privatized -- contracted to a private company.

Simply put, Lunsford's company let these soldiers down.

And as with Vencor, Lunsford profited at the expense of the taxpayers. Valor gave veterans inadequate care and then billed the federal government. All of this happened on Lunsford's watch.

Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, after receiving complaints from constituents, asked the Veterans Administration to look into the allegations. On August 28, 2008, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr. James B. Peake responded.

Peake told Hutchison that the VA "fully investigated" the issues at the Valor clinics. The VA "looked into the veterans' complaints and found them to be valid," Peake wrote. As a result of the "deficiencies" that the VA found, "failure to meet the performance measures has resulted in financial penalties" against Valor.

Though it is not in the financial services industry, Valor's mistreatment of veterans -- while the taxpayer pays -- epitomizes the greed and incompetence we've witnessed lately in the housing debacle. Entrepreneurs, like Lunsford, use government money to get rich and conduct their business however they want.

Lunsford's company exploited the sick and the elderly who risked their lives to protect our country. Lunsford's company ripped off the taxpayers by failing to do its job competently and honorably. Lunsford may be drawn to the letter "V" to name his companies because when it comes to his (third) run for public office, "V" does not stand for victory.

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