America loves its veterans. We have multiple holidays devoted to remembering their services and thanking their sacrifices, and we reward veterans for their devotion to our country with various lifelong benefits. Unfortunately, one of those benefits, health care, has become more of an annoyance – even a hazard – than an advantage.
Health care provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has developed a reputation for substandard service that borders on dangerous. As a result, many critics suggest the best option is to privatize the system. But how will privatization remedy VA health care, and how could America possibly make such a change?
What Went Wrong With VA Health Care
In 2014, Americans began hearing about systemic problems within the VA health care system. In more than 110 VA facilities, veterans were grossly neglected; not only were most veterans unable to secure either primary or specialty appointments within 14 days (the goal for VA centers as established in 2011) but at least 120,000 vets were forced to wait months or years without treatment, suffering pain and disease – and for 40 vets, death.
As the story developed, the nation learned that the VA’s problems were the result of widespread corruption inside the organization. Staff at VA facilities falsified appointment information to hide the untenable wait times, and VA leaders supported inappropriate behavior tacitly. Dozens of whistleblowers came forward during the scandal with tales about patient negligence, mistreatment, and harassment; the same whistleblowers said their attempts to inform managers and directors resulted only in punishment and termination.
Ultimately, Washington pledged to reform the VA. Several heads within the organization were forced out, including the top health official and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Several institutions, including the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the White House, launched investigations into the cause of the crisis, and some of those investigations are still ongoing.
Most reports suggest that the crucial cause of the problem was the unrealistic goal of a wait time of 14-days, but a system that lacked effective measurement allowed for dishonesty and disaster. Unfortunately, many critics suspect that the VA threatens to fall back to its old ways, which means it is time for true change.
Why Privatizing Might Help
Every year, millions of senior citizens gain access to Medicare. Regardless of their state of health or their financial solvency, seniors can receive quality medical attention from nearly any health care provider. In fact, seniors can deputize private insurers to administer Medicare benefits. Conversely, veterans are restricted to VA centers, causing unsustainable stress on these particular health care facilities. Both groups of Americans deserve access to reliable health care, but both groups are not afforded the same freedoms to seek it.
There are a few salient arguments against providing vets access to other health care options. Some attest that VA facilities will only continue to decline in quality of care if vets seek other sources like private physicians or hospitals. Others suggest the VA has successfully reformed and is currently on-par if not exceeding the standards of other health care facilities; in fact, a recent study found that the VA’s performance was superior to private-sector health care by about 30 percent. Thanks to better health administration and management, it seems the VA has improved since 2014.
Still, the 2014 scandal demonstrates that relying on a single institution to service millions of American veterans and their families is unwise. There are many veterans who are more than content with their treatment at VA facilities, but a bipartisan tapplication for VA health care benefits.askforce found that just as many vets remain on waiting lists for unreasonable amounts of time, and their outcomes are far worse than the average population’s. Privatizing seems an obvious solution to help those vets who the VA continues to shunt to the back and ignore.
Currently, staff within the Veterans Health Administration has immense variety in their coverage options, to include private health care facilities. Meanwhile, the veterans they work to protect fail to secure the health care they desperately need. The U.S. promised veterans timely, high-quality care, but it seems that in 2016, we continue to fail. Granting veterans the choice to seek private health care may be the best way to show our support and appreciation for their service.