The VA Is Privatizing Veterans’ Health Care While Launching A Campaign To Deny It

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Above Photo: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie testifies before the House Appropriations subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington.

  • Paul E. Merrell, J.D.

    As a patient in the VA Healthcare system since I got back from Vietnam in 1980, I am not enamored of that system. It’s a top-down system that has grown helter-skelter with successive patches of legislation. It has its absurdities, such as having to travel hundreds of miles for services that are available in the veteran’s home town, which shows an institutional disregard for the difficulties many veterans face with travel and which places no value on veterans’ time. (Although the VA has more hospitals than any other government, only a very few hospitals are located in each state (some only 1), leaving veterans in large states traveling ridiculous distances to obtain services.)

    The institutional bias toward in-government care is built-in by legislation that allows all veterans who served more than 6 months active duty to obtain health care services from the VA for free (sometimes a small co-pay) on an available bed basis, whether their medical condition is service-connected or not. That puts the veteran service organizations pushing to keep things as they are, rather than pushing for sensible integration with community health care systems that would obviate the need for senseless travel.

    The cure for the VA ills is to phase out the VA Healthcare system (with a caveat discussed below) during the transition to a Medicare for All insurance system. That way, treatment for the veterans whose conditions are not service-connected will not be eliminated. The VA health care system should be maintained for research on medical conditions that are fairly unique to the veteran population, e.g., traumatic brain injuries.

    But these large VA hospitals and clinics are enormously dysfunctional because of the very large distances between them. All healthcare needs to be integrated at the community level. Medicare for all is how we get there.