Privatization won't fix the VA

With its salaried staff of nearly 280,000, the VA has long been a model for health care delivery. The VA’s 152 hospitals, 900 clinics, 300 mental health centers, and other facilities — many located in rural areas that the private sector ignores — care for more than 230,000 people a day. In a recent survey of veterans for the American Customer Satisfaction Index, patients rated the system’s services as equal to or better than private sector health care facilities.

One reason is the VA’s systematic efforts to improve quality care and patient safety. The VA computerized medical records long before private hospitals. The VA conducts widespread training on inter-professional communication and teamwork that decreases patient deaths and injuries due to the kind of medical mistakes and problems that kill over 400,000 patients a year. In 2007, the VA launched a successful initiative to dramatically reduce the dangers of one the deadliest hospital superbugs —methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

The VA has singular expertise in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Many injured soldiers have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with what is known as poly-trauma — PTSD plus traumatic brain injury and limb amputations. Few primary care physicians — or even specialists — have much experience treating such cases in the private sector. In fact, without the VA, vets would have trouble getting any primary care services given the serious shortage of primary care providers in this country.