The scandals that have rocked the Department of Veterans Affairs over the last two years have some Republicans calling for at least a partial privatization of the agency.
But many veterans groups and most Democrats in Congress oppose privatization. This, despite all the evidence that the VA is a broken agency from top to bottom, with management unable to get rid of incompetent or corrupt employees and some facilities so poorly run that veterans still have to wait months for treatment.
Incoming President Donald Trump has recently been fielding ideas from experts on how to fix the VA — and privatization is one of the main options being considered.
Mr. Trump is considering changing the department to allow some veterans to bypass the VA heath-care system completely and get care exclusively from private-sector hospitals and clinics, the official said. It is an option that could give veterans full choice over their health care, but which many veterans groups argue is the first step toward privatization and one that will reduce the quality of health care over the long term.
“It’s one of the options on the table,” the transition official said Wednesday. ”Definitely an option on the table to have a system where potentially vets can choose either or, or all private.”
The possible reform plan was floated after Mr. Trump pulled aside a pool of reporters and instructed the official to give some details about changes he is considering at the VA, and that were apparently discussed during private meetings in Florida on Wednesday.
Mr. Trump has met with a handful of people familiar with the VA, the official said, and discussed the possibility of coming up with an advisory council to assist in making changes at the department.
“How would you implement a program that could get vets the ability to go to any hospital that they wanted to go to,” said the transition official, outlining conversations that have taken place. “If you were in the VA or out of the VA, how would you set it up?”
Major veterans groups, including the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Paralyzed Veterans of America, came out last month against privatization. Their reasoning makes sense:
Veterans groups, and the department itself, say a private-sector care program without adequate VA oversight or coordination leaves former members of the military navigating a private system that isn’t necessarily equipped to handle the unique problems veterans face, including post-traumatic stress and injuries sustained on the battlefield.
“Veterans suffer very specific illnesses and injuries that come from the battlefield and that come from service and they tend to be multiple in nature,” VA Secretary Bob McDonald said in an interview on Dec. 13, when asked why the VA needs to remain the coordinating hub of care for veterans. “Veterans want a doctor, or want a provider, who understands these illnesses and these injuries and knows how to deal with them and deals with them every day.”
There’s no doubt the VA is in crisis and drastic action must be taken. How many veterans have died waiting for treatment, or died because their illness wasn’t diagnosed in time?
Certainly a large part of the problem is mismanagement. But the bottom line is that there aren’t enough beds, doctors, and resources to treat the number of veterans who need help.
The objections of the veterans groups should be looked at carefully, but there have to be thousands of private-sector physicians who know how to treat PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury (TDI). Perhaps the VA could start a program to certify these doctors so that veterans can choose a private alternative if they wish.
There are also diseases that afflict veterans not specifically military related. Couldn’t the veteran be referred to a private doctor while still receiving free care? Even partial privatization should help in reducing the backlog of VA cases.
Congress will resist VA privatization, but as an alternative to the system currently in place, it certainly can’t be any worse.