VA Secretary: One Percent Increase in Vets Seeking Care Would Cost $1.4 Billion

In response to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton saying the Veterans Affairs scandal was not as widespread as it was perceived, VA Secretary Robert McDonald said his department has more work to do.

Last month, Clinton said, “I don’t understand why we have such a problem, because there have been a number of surveys of veterans. And overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment. Now nobody would believe that from the coverage you see, and the constant berating of the VA that comes from the Republicans, in part in pursuit of this ideological agenda that they have.”

McDonald was asked if he agreed with Clinton’s assessment.

“I told you we’ve made progress and we have more work to do,” he said at a National Press Club luncheon, responding to a question submitted by PJ Media.

National Press Club president John Hughes mentioned a CNN report that said long waits continue for many VA patients seeking medical services, including more than 8,000 requests for care having wait times longer than 90 days at the Phoenix VA hospital in August.

In response to the report, McDonald said most veterans have a choice, which they had before the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act.

“Seventy-eight percent of veterans have Medicare, Medicaid, their own private health insurance. So 78 percent of veterans have a choice. They exercise that choice. Today, on average, the average veteran – and, of course, there is no average veteran – but the average veteran uses VA for 34 percent of their medical care,” McDonald said.

“Now that 34 percent might be the hearing aids I talked about to save $4,000 dollars or that 34 percent might be the knee replacement I talked about that saves $5,000 dollars – only 34 percent. As we have improved our care, as we have improved our culture, as people have learned about the great things that the VA does, as we have opened up more facilities, as we have hired more providers, more people are coming,” he added.

McDonald explained that if the 34 percent figure rises to 35 percent, he would need a $1.4 billion dollar budget increase from Congress for that single percentage point.

“The budget problems we got into last year, 13, because of a miracle hepatitis C drug that was invented in 2014-2015, that budget was talked about two years before that. So we’re going to have to do something with our committees to create the kind of processes that exist in business for how you have budget flexibility and agility to meet customer demand,” he said.

“Otherwise, what's going to happen is as more people come into the system, if we don’t get that budget flexibility, then the appointments might not be within 30 days,” he added.

McDonald said Congress defines the benefits since it provides the VA budget.

“All we’re trying to do is make the two match,” he said.