Washington lawmakers are rushing to enact a bill by Friday they claim will alleviate the deadly backlog at the Veterans Administration.
Don’t fall for it.
Enacting any bill before Congress adjourns is meant to save lawmakers’ hides.
However, this bill won’t save sick vets languishing on wait lists.
The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 — keeps vets at the mercy of the VA bureaucracy and fails to give newly appointed VA Secretary, Robert McDonald firing tools to turn around the V.A.
The worst of the bill’s scams is the Veterans Choice Card. To make it easier for vets to use civilian doctors, Section 101(f) says every vet enrolled in the VA system will be issued a card, “that may be presented to a health care provider to facilitate the receipt of care or services.”
If only that were true.
The bill gives every vet a Choice Card, but not a real choice to leave the VA for outside care. Not every vet with a card can use it.
First, vets have to show they’ve waited longer than the VA considers reasonable for an appointment, or that they live more than 40 miles from a VA Then they have to get the VA Secretary to put them on an electronic waiting list for a referral.
Good luck with that.
Vets say they call and e mail VA hospitals every day for months without getting a response. If they get an appointment, the civilian doctor has to call the VA hotline for prior approval before treatment.
Good luck getting that call answered.
Worst of all, a vet who manages to get outside care can only stay with that doctor for 60 days. After that, it’s back to the VA. Don’t get attached to the civilian doctor who actually can help you with your diabetes or other chronic conditions. (See, Section 101 (h).
Why so many hurdles to sabotage vets seeking civilian care?
The public employees unions oppose outsourcing.
The VA ’s healthcare budget is based on how many vets seek care there.
For unions, the bigger that budget, the more union jobs and dues.
Last year, the VA rolled out a $9.3 billion program to refer vets to civilian specialists. The American Federation of Government Employees, the VA's biggest union, fought the program. The union’s newsletter, The Worker, even accused the VA of manufacturing the backlog crisis. “Create a Crisis and then outsource the work,” the newsletter stated
No wonder that program failed. According to a General Accountability Office report in June, only 19% of vets who asked for a referral got to a specialist within 90 days. Some vets waited as much as half a year for physical therapy.
The GAO investigators concluded once again what Congress has been told many times. Vets who have to wait for VA bureaucrats to make their medical appointments wait too long.
Legislation should put vets in the driver’s seat so they can make their own appointments. Nearly half of vets in the backlog are 65 or older and on Medicare.
Why not give them a special Medigap card, enabling them to seek civilian care without out-of-pocket expenses?
That would cut the backlog in half and solve a national crisis almost immediately.
The bill’s other bogus claim is that it will enable the incoming Secretary to hold accountable the employees behind the deadly manipulation of waiting lists and other corrupt practices. McDonald told Congress, “I desperately want this job, because I think I can make a difference.”
That’s pie in the sky under Section 707 of the bill.
That section shortens the appeals process for civil servants who are terminated, and eliminates pay while they are appealing their termination, but it doesn’t change one iota the grounds needed to fire someone or the labyrinth of due process protections.
It’s unrealistic to expect that members of Congress hurrying off for August recess would devise a way to repair a civil service system that has become increasingly dysfunctional over decades.
McDonald, former CEO of Procter & Gamble, will find the VA a culture shock compared with corporate America.
Betsy McCaughey is a patient advocate, constitutional scholar, syndicated columnist, regular contributor on Fox News and CNBC, and former lieutenant governor of New York. In 1993 she read the 1,362-page Clinton health bill, warned the nation what it said, and made history. McCaughey earned her Ph.D. in constitutional history from Columbia University. She is author of "Beating Obamacare 2014" and "Government by Choice: Inventing the United States Constitution." For more of Betsy's reports, Go Here Now.
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