Government & Politics

Imperfect Reform at the VA

Is it time to start thinking outside the bureaucratic box on veteran care?

Dan Gilmore · Mar. 26, 2015
Recovering at a Tampa VA hospital

It’s barely a year since Congress passed legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, and already we see just how imperfect that reform actually was. The Senate’s Committee on Veterans’ Affairs met with deputy VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson to iron out reforms. One reform would allow veterans to seek private medical care if they live a certain distance from a VA care facility through the Choice Card program.

A 2014 law stipulates veterans who live 40 miles as the crow flies from a VA clinic of any kind cannot seek private help. They have to go to the government-run clinic.

After the hearing, the department and the committee announced they had smoothed over the discrepancy. The VA said it would educate veterans about the Choice Card program, and that veterans can seek private medical attention – paid for by the VA – if they have to travel more than 40 miles to get to a VA clinic that handles the procedures they need.

But while this minor speed bump has been leveled, a whole crop of new scandals has risen up in the department.

The VA faces the ire of the chairman of the House Veterans’ Committee because it squandered funds rebuilding the Denver VA Hospital. Budgeted at $328 million, the lone hospital ballooned to over $2.73 billion with no end in sight to the project.

Oh sure, on the surface everything looks peachy. Barack Obama announced the formation of an advisory committee to study the department and suggest reforms. Another day, another study committee is thrown at another government problem.

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) said in a statement, “I’m concerned the administration’s decision to convene an advisory committee composed of outside experts to help improve VA services is a duplicative step that misses the mark. The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which the president signed last August, already mandates two top-to-bottom reviews of VA’s health care system.”

And the agency’s inspector general is set to lay into the Philadelphia VA Hospital. According to The Washington Times, the IG will release a report in the coming months accusing the hospital of things like unprocessed claims in its pension management center.

This is what it’s like to reform a large government agency – even after an administration change that vowed to hand out pink slips like confetti. And the 40-mile rule, while it’s about the closest we can probably get to a free market at the bureaucracy, is a Band-Aid atop a Band-Aid. How many do we have to apply before we call the whole department fixed?

The nation has a responsibility to take care of veterans injured in her wars – that’s just. Even going back to the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress promised pensions for Patriots who took up arms against the British and were wounded on the battlefield.

But for as long as veterans have returned from the battlefield, inflicted with wounds from Minie Balls to Agent Orange to PSTD, corruption and bureaucracy have tainted the nation’s care for them. CNN reports that because the states were responsible for paying out pensions after the Revolutionary War, only a few thousand veterans got paid.

When the VA was first created by consolidating several government programs – through a Herbert Hoover executive order in 1930 – it was already festering and the scandals only multiplied as the government expanded.

A decade earlier, after Warren Harding created the Veterans’ Bureau, he appointed Charles Forbes to run it. Forbes was a friend of Harding’s who used every corruption trick in the book to wring money from the fledgling organization, from taking bribes to snatching up land where the VA wanted to build hospitals. Forbes, unlike bureaucrats today, ended up serving time in jail.

Today, everybody is riding the cash cow. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) said in a statement after the 40-mile rule was ironed out, “The Senate VA Committee’s job, and the members of the Senate’s job, is to get more money if we need to; it is not to make excuses as to why we can’t do things for our veterans.”

And veterans expect the government to keep its promises, even if it’s swimming in corruption and waste. Roscoe Butler, deputy director for health care at The American Legion, told the committee, “The American Legion still strongly believes the VA is the best method for delivering care to veterans. However, we also recognize there are constraints VA must overcome, such as geography and workload that sometimes make this difficult.”

Gee, why couldn’t the private health care system also deliver care whenever and wherever the veterans need it?

Enough of this. It’s time to stop pretending that the VA health care system can ever work. Abolish the whole thing. Sell the hospitals and the Community-Based Outpatient Clinics. Put the money into an endowment for the men and women coming back from war and let them choose when and where they receive care.

Back when the wait-time scandal was still boiling, Mark Alexander wrote, “The VA is a case study in failed government health care delivery – there is no effective way to implement accountability in these huge government bureaucracies. … [T]he VA case study has significant implications for the future of ObamaCare and the Democrats’ ultimate goal of central government managed distribution and delivery of health care services across our nation.”

It is time for the VA to step aside from providing health care to veterans. Think of it this way: Do we really think a bloated bureaucracy is the best way to serve American Patriots?

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