The weekend brought news that Congress had reached a tentative agreement in principle to “fix” the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA has been in the news recently when it was discovered 18 veterans died while on a secret waiting list for care at their Phoenix facility. An inspector general’s report in May also found roughly 1,700 veterans in Phoenix were on a secret list outside of the scrutiny of Congress, with some waiting as long as 115 days for treatment. This scandal has led to the recent congressional deliberations and the resignation of it’s Secretary, former Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki.
The leaders of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees reached a tentative deal Sunday to improve veterans’ health care — a potential solution to help fix such ongoing problems as delays for benefits and long waits for medical treatment concealed by secret lists.
The tentative deal would also end speculation about whether Congress would indeed begin a five-week summer recess without a legislative solution amid widespread national outrage over problems within the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The committee chairmen, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., worked through the weekend and have scheduled a press conference for Monday to talk about the tentative deal.
A spokesman for Sanders confirmed the agreement Sunday.
The pair said in a joint statement that they had “made significant progress” toward an agreement on legislation “to make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.”
It is no question what has been happening inside the VA is unacceptable, and that Congress needs to act. So many federal government programs have adopted the term “entitlements” that the term no longer means what it truly should. But, in the case of the care of our veterans, no one is more entitled to the best we can give than them. Many have endured tremendous hardship and suffering in the service of this nation. All agreed to make incredible sacrifices so that we may continue to live free in the greatest nation the world has ever known — up to and including agreeing to give their own lives on our behalf. Of any group, our veterans have more than earned their entitlements, simply by making that commitment to sacrifice for us all.
The VA has a horrific track record, however, of following through on the delivery of those things our veterans have more than earned. As this CNN article from May describes, about the only thing the VA has succeeded at is systematically letting down those it was chartered to serve. The VA’s history is rife with failures that have transcended decades and administrations from both political parties, ever since its formation in 1930. This is not a Republican or Democrat or liberal or conservative failure; it is instead a failure of this nation as a whole to take care of the very men and women who are it’s greatest treasures.
So yes, Congress must act. But it appears now as if they will always do what DC likes to do in the wake of a crisis — throw more money at a problem in the hopes it will go away, without doing the harder work of truly trying to reform the system itself. After all, it always makes a good soundbyte when they can say they joined hands to pass such legislation. Dollar signs with a lot of numbers following them always brings with it the appearance of a solution, yet the real problem is the system itself — as in the government trying to replicate the delivery of services best left to the private sector.
The VA has a continuous track record of failure; so continuous that the real solution is for government to get out of trying to take care of the medical and psychological needs of our vets with a government-run medical system rife with bureaucracy and organizational malaise. Instead, lets allow our veterans the opportunity to participate in a program as simple as this — any doctor they want, for any care they need, at any place they wish to seek help. It may sound expensive, but in light of the most recent of a series of blunders going back to the start of the VA, this may be in the long run the most cost effective and compassionate solution. Turn loose the power of market forces to allow the private sector to compete for the care of those who deserve it the most. Much of those care decisions will be made by veterans and their families based on how well, and how compassionately, they are cared for by those private sector medical providers. If vets are not getting quality care at one place, they can go elsewhere without concern of having to pay for it themselves. That is an option not currently available to them, and thus they suffer because the VA (in lacking competition) simply does not have incentive to ensure they are giving out vets the best care anywhere.
The care of our veterans is a sacred trust. That trust is so sacred that it’s time for our elected leaders in Washington to finally recognize government by it’s nature will never be up to the task of directly providing a publicly-run medical system worthy of those veterans. Government has failed our veterans through the very nature of government itself, and will continue to do so until it turns their care over to the private sector to manage.