There’s an opportunity for Congress to actually do something useful and, quite frankly, important coming up shortly. There will be a vote in the House Veterans Affairs Committee on approving a bill which will overhaul the Veterans Choice Program. This well-meaning legislation from 2014 was crafted with good intentions, but like so many other aspects of the VA recently, it simply fell short.
The new legislation, as reported at the Free Beacon, will cut through a lot of red tape and allow veterans to go to private medical providers when the VA is unable to treat them comprehensively and in a timely fashion.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee will soon vote on bipartisan legislation to give veterans the option to seek private-sector medical care if the Department of Veterans Affairs is unable to provide a patient with an adequate health care team.
Committee chairman Rep. Phil Roe (R., Tenn.), who introduced the bill last week, told the Washington Free Beacon lawmakers will vote on the measure as soon as the Congressional Budget Office releases a cost projection for the program. The committee was initially set to vote on the legislation on Wednesday.
The bill would overhaul the Veterans Choice Program created by Congress in response to a 2014 scandal over manipulated wait times at federal facilities that led to the deaths of dozens of veterans. The program was intended to temporarily provide veterans with greater flexibility to visit care providers outside of the VA’s network of health care facilities.
Wait times are still too long in many cases, and even if the veteran in question does manage to get an appointment with their general practitioner, any referral to a specialist if one is needed can drag on forever. Veterans who live too far from the nearest VA facility or are near one which only offers limited services absolutely need the ability to seek out private care.
One estimate indicates that these changes will likely cost roughly $2B over the next ten years. Yes, that’s a lot of money. Too bad. If we can’t find the money anywhere else there are 14 other cabinet-level departments. They can each come up with $143 million out of their budgets. And if asked, we should immediately be provided with a list of the cabinet members who have the audacity to say no.
The VA scandal under the Obama administration was a disgrace and many were rightly critical of the administration over the handling of it. But now the excuse of blaming Barack Obama is gone. We have a new president and, for the most part, a new cabinet. (Ironically the head of the VA at the moment is an Obama holdover, but he seems to be making a good faith effort.) It’s time to do the right thing for our veterans. And if the Democrats want to start singing any of the same old songs about how we have too much “hero worship” of our men and women in uniform they should be on the front page of every newsapaper in the nation with that quote next to their name.
Get off the stick, Congress. You can notch a significant victory in the books here simply by doing the right thing. And while you’re at it, find out why the program that partners wounded warriors with service dogs at Fort Belvoir and Walter Reed was suddenly canceled without notice.