The Department of Veterans Affairs will redirect billions of dollars toward the private health care sector in an effort to reform a broken system.
Recent years have seen several scandals involving the V.A.’s waiting lists, which can deny care to veterans for months and even years. By allowing veterans to seek treatment in private facilities, it is hoped that some of the serious deficiencies in the system can be addressed.
Under proposed guidelines, it would be easier for veterans to receive care in privately run hospitals and have the government pay for it. Veterans would also be allowed access to a system of proposed walk-in clinics, which would serve as a bridge between V.A. emergency rooms and private providers, and would require co-pays for treatment.
Veterans’ hospitals, which treat seven million patients annually, have struggled to see patients on time in recent years, hit by a double crush of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and aging Vietnam veterans. A scandal over hidden waiting lists in 2014 sent Congress searching for fixes, and in the years since, Republicans have pushed to send veterans to the private sector, while Democrats have favored increasing the number of doctors in the V.A.
If put into effect, the proposed rules — many of whose details remain unclear as they are negotiated within the Trump administration — would be a win for the once-obscure Concerned Veterans for America, an advocacy group funded by the network founded by the billionaire industrialists Charles G. and David H. Koch, which has long championed increasing the use of private sector health care for veterans.
For individual veterans, private care could mean shorter waits, more choices and fewer requirements for co-pays — and could prove popular. But some health care experts and veterans’ groups say the change, which has no separate source of funding, would redirect money that the current veterans’ health care system — the largest in the nation — uses to provide specialty care.
Their point is well taken. There are some conditions that are military-specific that some veterans groups and members of Congress are worried that the private sector is ill-equipped to deal with. PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and rehabilitation from wounds are just a few examples.
That said, something needs to be done. The bottom line is that the VA is failing in its primary mission to give the very best care to those who deserve it. Hiring more health care professionals will not be enough. Building more facilities would help but would take years.
This is a crisis that has been decades in the making and privatizing some VA functions would, at the very least, improve the lives of many of our wounded warriors.