Politicians years ago gave in to the Koch brothers’ push to privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs and send more veterans to costly private hospitals. Now the Government Accountability Office has just issued a new report on wait times at private hospitals under the VA’s “Choice” privatization program, and it’s not pretty.
The GAO report, “Veterans Choice Program: Improvements Needed to Address Access-Related Challenges as VA Plans Consolidation of its Community Care Programs,” analyzed 5,000 Choice authorizations from July through September 2016 and found that veterans are waiting anywhere from 51-70 days to receive their care at private medical centers outside of the VA.
By contrast, the average wait time at the VA to receive care is 6.5 days, according to former VA secretary David Shulkin. As of March, 2017, nearly 97% of the 5.15 million appointments at the VA were completed within 30 days of the clinically indicated or veteran’s preferred date.
The GAO’s recommendations for the Choice privatization program underline a lack of accountability and oversight of private and for-profit care. Choice was allegedly established to improve veterans’ access to care, but clearly that isn’t happening.
The sad thing is, the pro-privatization lawmakers don’t care. Last year, while the House Veterans Affairs Committee was working on H.R. 4242 – the VA Care in the Community Act – Rep. Mark Takano of California attempted to insert amendments that would increase accountability around private care providers, but his amendment was beaten back by pro-privatization members of Congress – Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee and committee Republicans.
The privatizers are trying to blame the VA for the failures of its contractors. The truth is, the agency is denied the resources necessary for proper oversight and management of this privatization program. Simultaneously, veterans are being shunted to Choice because the VA lacks sufficient staff to meet the demand for care. Filling these 49,000 vacancies has never been a priority for the administration or pro-privatization politicians. And now, they have made a $52 billion bet on the Choice program, diverting precious dollars into a program that is hurting the VA and veterans.
Our veterans signed up to serve this country with the promise of a health care system that would take care of them after their tour of duty ended. If these politicians continue to starve the VA while diverting more money into the pockets of private hospital CEOs and owners with no oversight and accountability, veterans will be the ones paying the ultimate price.