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Q.

The Veterans Affairs Department has already distributed a book pressuring our elderly veterans to choose to die?

Is that not a slippery slope to “death panels”?
 

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A.

Recently a partisan op-ed in the Wall Street Journal distorted the purpose of an important Veterans Affairs planning tool called "Your Life, Your Choices." The booklet is designed to help Veterans deal with excruciating questions about what kind of health care they would like to receive if they are unable to make decisions for themselves.

It is viewed in the field of advance care planning as a groundbreaking tool. It was developed in the 1990s. In 2007, the Bush White House received a complaint about the planning tool from Jim Towey, the author of the op-ed. Towey developed and markets a competing advance care planning product called Five Wishes.

VA was asked to respond to the complaint that the product was biased against the right-to-life viewpoint. Veterans Health Administration convened an outside panel of experts to review the tool and assess its merits. Overwhelmingly, panel experts praised "Your Life, Your Choices" and endorsed its use in VHA. They also provided a range of excellent suggestions for strengthening the product through streamlining and reorganization of the material, and they asked that some of the clinical content be updated.

The op-ed initiating this rumor also contains a number of inaccurate and misleading statements. Political posturing and misrepresentation of the facts on the backs of our nation's Veterans is unacceptable.

  • Towey states “the VA panel of experts that sought to update "Your Life, Your Choices" between 2007-2008 did not include any representatives of faith groups or disability rights advocates.” In fact, the panel included 5 VA representatives and 12 nationally recognized experts from outside of VA, representing diverse perspectives. Members included a priest, a rabbi, a renowned disability rights advocate, and the President of the organization that produces "Five Wishes," the alternative advance care planning document that Mr. Towey created and is now actively promoting.
  • Towey states, "under President Obama, the VA has now resuscitated "Your Life, Your Choices." In fact, VA's current plans to update and release the document were developed under the Bush administration and have not changed. The document is currently under revision. The updated version is due to be released in the fall.
  • Towey is critical of VA's policy requiring primary care providers to raise the topic of advance care planning with all patients. Federal law requires health care organizations to educate all patients about advance care planning since 1991.
  • Towey's article suggests the goal of "Your Life, Your Choices" is to pressure Veterans into choosing death. Unfortunately, unfounded accusations like this have become too commonplace in the current political debate. The goal of "Your Life, Your Choices" is to help patients express their end-of-life wishes, so VA can honor those wishes, regardless of what those wishes may be.

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