Three years ago, a succession of scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs revealed veterans were dying due to negligence, fraud and abuse at VA hospitals across the nation.
In response, Congress implemented a temporary measure that was meant to ease the burden on some veterans by allowing them to receive care elsewhere in the community. Today, the scandals are still pouring in, and veterans are still forced to rely on this same program that has proven to be poorly implemented and ineffective. The Veterans Choice Program (VCP), which was recently reauthorized until Congress can put a better, permanent solution on the table, is quickly running out of funds. This unanticipated budget shortfall will result in funds running out by August 7 of this year.
But the issues at the VA go far beyond budget shortfalls in the Choice Program, and necessitate deeper and more comprehensive reform. Congress must finally take the steps to permanently reform how veterans seek health care with their VA benefits. Furthermore, this reform must overhaul and expand the current Choice Program. CVA’s Policy Director Dan Caldwell released a memo today on policies that new choice legislation and proposals should include. Four specific elements should be included in any legitimate choice legislation:
- Real health care choice that empowers veterans at the VA. Plain and simple, veterans should have more choice over where they seek their medical care, not less. Several of the proposed pieces of legislation in Congress are on the right track towards achieving this objective, but there’s more work to be done.
- Effective cost controls. The VA’s community care programs need to be more effective in controlling costs, specifically in the payment and reimbursement processes.
- Innovative pilot programs. The VA should seek new ways to embrace demographic changes it will face over the next decade by testing new ways to deliver health care effectively.
- Increased transparency around costs and quality of VA care. The VA has already done great work on increasing transparency into the department, specifically on employee discipline. This dedication to transparency should carry into costs and quality of care, ensuring that veterans and taxpayers know how the VA is spending its money and how well veterans are being taken care of at their local VA.
This Congress has a historic opportunity to reform the VA and provide veterans with true choice in medical care. They must seize this opportunity with the mindset that veterans’ needs come first, not the needs of the bureaucracy. With these elements as a blueprint, Congress can put together comprehensive and lasting legislation.
Read our full memo on choice reform legislation here.
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