Another fake VA fix–‘reform’ bill changes little
Members of Congress are rushing to pass a bill “fixing” the deadly Veterans Administration backlog before they go on vacation. Don’t fall for it: This bill won’t save sick vets languishing on wait lists.
The “Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act” doesn’t provide access, choice or accountability.
It leaves vets at the mercy of the VA bureaucracy and fails to give new VA Secretary Robert McDonald the tools to turn the agency around.
The worst of the bill’s scams is the Veterans Choice Card. Every vet enrolled in the VA system is to get a card “that may be presented to a health-care provider to facilitate the receipt of care or services.”
But not every vet can use the card to see a civilian doctor.
First, you have to show you’ve waited longer than the VA considers reasonable for an appointment, or that you live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.
Then you have to get the VA to put you on an electronic waiting list for a referral. Good luck with that. Vets call and e-mail VA hospitals daily for months without getting a response.
On top of this, any civilian doctor you see has to call a VA hotline for prior approval before treating you. Good luck getting that call answered.
Worst of all, if you do manage to get outside care, you can only stay with that doctor for 60 days. After that, it’s back to the VA. Don’t get attached to the civilian doctor who actually can help you with your diabetes or other chronic conditions.
Why so many hurdles to sabotage vets seeking civilian care? The VA unions and bureaucracy oppose outsourcing: It’s a threat to their now-secure jobs (and the unions’ vast take from dues).
Last year, the VA rolled out a $9.3 billion program to refer vets to civilian specialists. The American Federation of Government Employees, the VA’s biggest union, fought it tooth and nail. Its newsletter, The Worker, even accused the VA of manufacturing the backlog crisis: “Create a Crisis and then outsource the work.”
No wonder that program failed. According to a General Accountability Office report in June, only 19 percent of vets who asked for a referral under the program got to a specialist within 90 days. Some waited as much as half a year for physical therapy.
The GAO investigators concluded once again what Congress has been told many times: Vets who have to wait for VA bureaucrats to make their medical appointments wait too long.
Reform should put vets in the driver’s seat so they can make their own appointments.
Nearly half of vets in the backlog are 65 or older and on Medicare. Why not give them a special Medigap card, enabling them to seek civilian care without out-of-pocket expenses? That would cut the backlog in half and solve a national crisis almost immediately.
The bill’s other bogus claim is that it will enable the new secretary to hold accountable the employees behind the deadly manipulation of waiting lists and other corrupt practices.
McDonald told Congress, “I desperately want this job, because I think I can make a difference.” That’s pie in the sky under the “reform” bill.
Yes, Section 707 shortens the appeals process for civil servants who are terminated, and eliminates pay while they’re appealing, but it doesn’t change one iota of the limited grounds for firing or the labyrinth of due-process protections.
It’ll still be true that almost the only way to get forced out from the VA is to be a whistleblower.
Members of Congress hurrying off for August recess can’t be expected to repair a civil-service system that’s been growing dysfunctional for decades. Secretary McDonald, who spent years in corporate America as CEO of Procter & Gamble, will find the Veterans Administration a grim culture shock.