Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Lies, damn lies, and statistics

I want to say first of all, as a veteran (still on reserve duty though) I believe our veterans deserve all the support they can get. I don't believe, however, that we should lie and distort statistics in order to get it. One thing I have noticed recently is the relentless attack on President Bush accusing him of "cutting veterans benefits". While certain programs may have been cut, on the whole this is not true, in fact it is a blatant lie. One good resource to go to on this is factcheck.org.

Patty Murray recently added to this by her theatrical attempts to get VA benefits increased as part of an "emergency supplemental" bill. Now you might be able to make a case we need to increase benefits, but this is an ongoing cost, not an emergency. In an attempt to make her case Senator Murray makes the following statement.

When adjusted for inflation, the VA is spending 25 percent less per patient than it did in fiscal year 2000. This is having a big impact on patients – and on VA healthcare personnel.

Now this gives the impression that the VA is making massive cuts in patient care. 25% is a huge drop of course. Nothing could be further from the truth. According to the OMB, since 2001 spending on VA benefits has increased 50%, from $45 billion to a projected $68 billion in 2006. So how is Senator Murray coming up with this 25% decrease? Because the number of patients being treated by the VA has increased dramatically! According to the VA themselves, an increase of 22% between 2001 and 2005. The administration has increased the number of benefits, so more veterans are using them, often for minor problems which weren't covered before, thus decreasing the average expenditure per patient. See the aforementioned factcheck.org article for more details. This is per patient mind you, not per veteran. The actual number of veterans has been going down for the last 30 years, as the 16 million veterans of WWII die off.

So incredibly Senator Murray is able to present a massive increase in veterans' benefits as a massive cut. A simply amazing abuse of statistics.