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Firing Veterans Affairs' Eric Shinseki Was Only the Start: Give Vets Choice and Competition in Choosing Health Care

June 2, 2014 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Medical care for veterans has become Washington’s latest scandal du jour. But this case truly is an outrage. Those injured while serving their country deserve prompt, quality medical attention.

The fate of Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, was sealed well before his ouster Friday. The facts were easily understood by the American people. Secretary Shinseki didn’t appear to be engaged and in charge. President Barack Obama needed a scapegoat.

With Shinseki gone attention now turns to policies instead of personalities. Everyone agrees that forcing veterans to wait, and possibly die waiting, for medical care is outrageous. But what to do?

Caring for veterans isn’t cheap. Promiscuous war-making over the last decade has generated an influx of patients, many with debilitating injuries. VA has 327,000 employees, second only to the Pentagon. This year VA is expected to spend roughly $151 billion, making it the fifth most expensive federal bureaucracy. Department outlays have more than trebled since George W. Bush took office in 2001. (VA provides more than medicine: income security, mostly disability payments, is the agency’s single most expensive program.) Unfortunately, the Congressional Budget Office reported that VA was still dramatically underfunded even though the number of vets has fallen with the passing of the World War II generation.

The government has a solemn duty to care for those injured in war. The department claimed to be fulfilling that responsibility. VA said its latest strategic plan “builds on past accomplishments to drive further improvements in quality, customer service, preparedness, and management systems by shifting the focus from improvement within a service or benefit delivery program to coordinating and integrating across programs and organizations. It also includes an emphasis on outcomes for the Veteran, and putting the Veteran in control of how, when, and where they wish to be served.”

Government should put money into veterans’ hands to purchase insurance tailored to their special needs.”

Alas, the reality is very different. Many veterans have trouble accessing care. VA estimated that it has a case-processing backlog of 344,000. On average it takes vets 160 days to become eligible for benefits. Estimates of the error rate start at nine percent. The average wait for vets who appeal is 1598 days, or about 52 months. Former Sen. Robert Kerrey told how it once took him 12 days to change his address.

After being declared eligible, many vets get stuck in line. For instance, according to the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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