AFGE is calling on Congress to launch an investigationinto the two main contractors running the Department of Veterans Affairs’ controversial Choice program after the VA watchdog found that they have defrauded taxpayers by nearly $90 million.
In a September memo by the VA Office of Inspector General, titled “Accuracy and Timeliness of Payments Made Under the Choice Program Authorized by the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act,” the IG found that at least two third-party administrators of the VA Choice Program had led to $90 million in improper charges to the American taxpayer.
“The questionable practices used by third-party administrators of the VA Choice Program, TriWest and HealthNet, including double billing and improper payment rates, have directly harmed veterans and undermined the capacity of the VA health care system to provide them with the exemplary care that they have earned with their service,” AFGE said ina letter to the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs leadership. The union “respectfully requests that the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Sub-Committee on Oversight and Investigations conduct oversight hearings into the contractors’ billing practices and the VA’s effectiveness in overseeing these contracts.”
The revelations of overcharging by third-party administrators is just the latest controversy plaguing the negligent Choice program.
Last month, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voted along party lines to pass H.R. 4242 – VA Care in the Community Act – which would continue to funnel funding away from veterans’ first and best choice for health care, sticking them in the back of the line at unaccountable, private, for-profit providers.
House Committee of Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Rep. Mark Takano of California attempted to submit three amendments to H.R. 4242, to increase hiring of VA employees and improve accountability of the Choice program, but Committee Republicans voted down each on party-line votes.
AFGE members thank Rep. Takano and the Committee Democrats who all tried to protect veterans’ health care. This year we have continued to hear veterans and their service organizations tell us how important VA care is, and how we cannot let it be dismantled and auctioned off to unqualified for-profit providers.
We keep hearing from Congress and the administration that there needs to be a greater level of accountability, but when it came down to making sure these private providers would be accountable to the men and women who served this country, party politics won out.