The motto of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” But in recent years, the department has been dogged by patient backlogs, ethical scandals and unsatisfactory performance. Secretary David Shulkin was fired last March, and last week the department’s inspector general released a report that said he “violated federal statutes and regulations prohibiting the misuse of government property and the acceptance of certain gifts.”
The scandal at the top is less consequential in the long run than the failures in meeting the health needs of veterans. The shortcomings are not because the department lacks adequate funds. From 2006 to 2016, the budget of the Veterans Hospital Administration, the VA’s medical wing, grew from $38 billion to $91 billion. But it has failed to put that money to use in an efficient way.
One reason is that the VHA, like many bureaucracies, is less than nimble at responding to new demands. A plan from the Trump administration will apply both resources and pressure, by making it easier for veterans to get treatment from private doctors and hospitals, with the government paying. It would replace the popular Veterans Choice program, which has attracted 1 million veterans happy to obtain care in the private sector.
The approach, building on a law enacted last year called the Mission Act, should also help focus the VHA on its most important function: treating the often serious and unusual ailments that stem directly from military service. As it is, reports Concerned Veterans for America, “59 percent of the current unique VHA patients do not have a service-connected disability.”
Private providers are perfectly capable of taking care of veterans with high blood pressure or seasonal allergies. Those patients who don’t need specialized care ought to have the option of going to private facilities.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE