In Time for Memorial Day: Overdue VA Reform

Private-sector influence is exactly what the VA needs, not simply more taxpayer money.

Jordan Candler · May 25, 2018

In 2012, our Mark Alexander noted with vexation the fact that “so many ‘miserable creatures’ have downgraded Memorial Day to nothing more than a date to exploit for commercial greed and avarice.” He observed: “Duty. Honor. Country — these are not for bargain sale or discount.” Indeed. Memorial Day is not for sale. Rather, it is supposed to be a day set aside to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, not just another annually occurring holiday for advertisers to market with impunity.

Fast-forward six years, however, and Americans can point toward an honorable feat that’s actually worth advertising during Monday’s Memorial Day cookouts. Congress has finally lifted an ominous dark cloud under which our veterans have unnecessarily suffered. Some even died — not from injuries incurred on the battlefield but from a corrupt bureaucracy known as the Department of Veterans Affairs. All of that is about to change. In a 92-5 vote, the Senate on Wednesday passed the VA Mission Act, a pivotal piece of veteran health care reform that the House previously approved, 347-70. Donald Trump will sign the bill in short order.

The Washington Free Beacon reports that the legislation “will expand outside medical care options for veterans, increase stipends for veteran caregivers, and streamline community care programs to cut waste. It also strikes arbitrary distance and time restrictions on a veterans’ ability to seek private-sector care. The bill authorizes $5.2 billion to the Veterans Choice Program, which is expected to run out of funding by the end of the month, disrupting care for thousands of patients.”

The Washington Post elaborates, “The VA Mission Act would replace Choice by consolidating VA’s multiple private-care programs and contracting with an outside company to streamline billing.”

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) declared: “I’m delighted to say that a few days before the celebration of Memorial Day we’re going to pass through the United States Senate, and the president is going to sign later this week, the VA Mission bill, which is the final piece of the mosaic we started two years ago to put together to fix the veterans health care service system — make it more accountable, make it relative to our veterans, and make sure we use the private sector as a force multiplier to deliver health services to our veterans at their choice. The veterans, in consult with their primary care VA doctor, will be able to choose the doctor of their choice and the service of their choice, whether through the VA or delivered in the private sector, based on quality, accessibility, availability, and the choice of the veteran.”

One of the few holdouts, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Socialist-VT), stated: “I acknowledge the work done by some of my colleagues to improve this bill, but I believe it moves us too far in the direction of privatization. That is why I will vote against it.” The American Federation of Government Employees echoed that sentiment, claiming it “kicks the door wide open to VA privatization, no matter what its supporters claim.” Yet massive backlogs have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of veterans, as documented in a 2015 VA inspector general report.

Opponents of VA reform don’t seem to realize the magnitude of that number. Private-sector influence is exactly what the VA needs, not simply more cash infusion with which the government has shown zero ability to improve the system. And thanks to scarce bipartisan cooperation in Congress and Donald Trump, that’s becoming reality.

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