If Sen. John McCain has his way, the Department of Veterans Affairs will be forced to send a very large share of veterans who seek VA care to for-profit private clinics and hospitals which are more expensive and inferior to the specialized care provided by the VA.
McCain this week introduced a bill that would have veterans rely much more on private clinics and hospitals. The bill is similar to a proposal by the Koch Brothers-funded Concerned Veterans for America (CVA). In fact, he was a speaker at the group’s rollout of the plan. The bill would essentially expand and make permanent a private care pilot program under a 2014 law.
With this bill, the senator from Arizona is walking back on his agreement as part of the 2014 Choice Act to give VA a large increase in funding for hiring of VA staff and more VA clinic space in order to help curb long wait times, which are mainly caused by severe shortages of doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. The VA needs to hire tens of thousands of employees. It doesn’t help with recruiting and retention efforts that elected officials passed legislation in the House of Representatives recently that would take away employee workplace protections and due process.
McCain’s bill is misguided because VA hospitals have consistently outperformed private hospitals. There are areas that need to be improved, but Congress needs to fund those improvements such as staffing. Over the last few years, the primary care visits in the VAwent up 50% while the number of primary care doctors went up only 9%. Despite reports of wait list gaming at some facilities, wait times at VA hospitals are only 21 days on average.
At VA hospitals, veterans get the specialized care that they need provided by those who understand and deeply care about them. Real veterans groups can attest to that and they are against McCain’s privatization scheme.
Sherman Gillums Jr., deputy executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, said VA hospitals offer the best and in some cases the only care options for many veterans with severe injuries.
"We support the bill's intent," he said "But if it requires VA to erode its infrastructure or rob Peter to pay Paul to fund permanent Choice Care, we won't support it."
McCain’s bill would not only hurt veterans who are customers of the VA but also veterans who are employees of the VA. More than one in three VA employees are veterans, many of whom also seek care from the VA. While the administration is trying to get agencies to hire more veterans, McCain is trying to throw them out on the streets.