A new poll released Wednesday showed that veterans are nearly unanimous in their desire to have other options besides medical centers run by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA medical system is arguably America’s first step toward a “public option” in health care, and veterans are clamoring to get away from it.
A full 98 percent of veterans said they favor “giving veterans more choices in their health care by allowing them to receive health care services from medical facilities or health care providers outside of the VA’s existing medical system.” Almost three-quarters (73 percent) of veterans said they “strongly favor” this kind of choice, while a quarter (25 percent) said they “somewhat favor” it.
Registered voters in the poll were of a similar mind. A vast majority (62 percent) said they “strongly favor” veterans’ choice in health care, while 33 percent said they “somewhat favor” it.
“Veterans and non-veterans alike overwhelmingly want more health care choice for our veterans,” Dan Caldwell, policy director at Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), the group which conducted the poll, said in a statement. “This should send a clear message to lawmakers in Washington.”
On Tuesday night, the Senate passed a bill that would boost funding for the VA’s Veterans Choice Program, The Washington Times reported. This health care program was created in 2014 as a response to the VA wait list scandal, and it gives veterans the ability to access care outside the VA system under limited circumstances, like if they live too far away from a health center.
The Senate bill, which passed the House of Representatives last week, would give the program an extra $2.1 billion in funding, but it would not provide choice in health care to all veterans, even if the president signs it.
“With the current problems plaguing the Veterans Choice Program, Congress must pass permanent reforms that empower veterans with the ability to access care inside or outside of the VA at their own discretion,” Caldwell said.
The CVA poll, which surveyed 1,000 registered voters and 260 veterans in July, echoed previous polling in 2015 and 2014, which showed similar results. A 2016 Gallup poll also showed that 91 percent of Americans supported giving veterans who use the VA more choice in health care.
These results should not be surprising, given the VA’s history of scandals. While the most famous scandal involved secret wait lists at the Phoenix location in 2014, there have been no fewer than 17 major scandals in the past three years.
In April, a VA employee was caught watching porn on the job, and VA Secretary David Shulkin was not able to fire him immediately. Recent reports revealed that the Houston VA falsified wait times, that an Oklahoma veteran died with maggots in his wound, and that VA employees worked over 1 million hours for unions on the taxpayers’ dime.
One of the most egregious cases is that of Sharon Helman, former director of the VA hospital in Phoenix, Ariz. and a convicted felon. After being fired in 2014, Helman sued to get her job back, and in May a federal court ruled her firing unconstitutional.
President Trump signed a reform bill in June which invalidated the Helman ruling and allowed the VA to expedite the firing of bad actors. Shortly thereafter, Shulkin released a list of 528 employees fired since Trump’s inauguration.
While progress is coming at the VA, veterans are still unhappy with this experiment in socialized medicine. Veterans, like Americans in general, should have many different options for their health care in a free market. This poll suggests there is a strong political will on this issue, and Congress should listen.