Testifying before the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees, leaders of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Disabled American Veterans expressed concern that too much outsourcing of healthcare under a new Choice program could undermine the mission of the VA. Some warned against “all-out privatization” that could eventually lead to the “dissolution of the VA system.”
According to Stars and Stripes, when Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Mich., framed the issue as potentially a choice between “quality health care or health care from VA,” his choice of words led to a spirited discussion among the crowd, made up of a few hundred veterans. But as Louis Celli, the American Legion legislative director, responded, “The truth is, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. The VA trains some of the finest doctors in the country, and we want to make sure it retains the highest quality physicians.”
Garry Augustine, Disabled American Veterans director, expressed his concern that “if you open up choice to anyone, and they can go anywhere, it will eventually drain resources from the VA. The VA will eventually whither on the vine.”
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., stressed that his committee did not want to privatize the VA; Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., was unconvinced. Valid arguments exist on either side. Some degree of privatization allows veterans relief from long waits for appointments, which in some cases have proven fatal. But veterans’ healthcare often requires specialized knowledge that doctors in the private sector do not usually have. Getting a veteran more quickly to a doctor who cannot treat service-related illnesses effectively is not a good way to improve healthcare outcomes.
The question of choice may become moot if Congress fails to extend the Choice Act, due to expire in August 2017.
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