Like all single-payer health systems around the world, the VA controls costs by imposing a “global budget” — a limit to how much it can spend on care. Thus year-to-year funding varies according to the whims of Congress, not according to what consumers want or are willing to spend.
With tens of thousands of wounded soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the demand for care is rising dramatically. Enrollment in VA services has increased by 13% from 2007 to 2012. Despite a 76% increase in expenditures ($24 billion) over that period, the program still suffers from chronic budget problems. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that it would require as much as a 75% increase in inflation-adjusted funding for the VA to treat all veterans.
When resources can’t meet demand in a given year, the VA does what other single-payer systems do: It rations.
Even accessing the system can be a major problem. Currently, the case-processing backlog exceeds 344,000 claims. Although the VA says it has a policy of processing claims within 125 days, it actually takes an average of 160 days for a veteran to gain access to his health benefits. Moreover, the VA itself estimates that it has at least a 9% error rate in processing claims. Outside groups claim the error rate is much higher.