July 10, 2018

Better Health Care for Veterans


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Congress created the Veterans Choice Program to fill big gaps in the VA system and help disabled veterans see a doctor near their home, rather than exclusively at a VA hospital or clinic.
  • Two million disabled veterans have used Veterans Choice Program to access a network of an additional 200,000 doctors.
  • Commonsense reforms in the VA MISSION Act allow veterans easier access to the free market health care system. It is not privatization.  

Americans are united in their belief that disabled veterans deserve high quality health care, prompting outrage at the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal in 2014. After hundreds of veterans died awaiting health care at VA hospitals, Congress created the Veterans Choice Program to provide veterans care from doctors near their homes and outside the closed system of VA hospitals and clinics.

Opponents of the program claim it is “privatization” and amounts to “dismantling of the department’s extensive health care system.” This claim has been debunked by independent fact checkers. These attacks are not only off the mark, they undercut efforts to provide veterans with better health care. The American people overwhelmingly support veterans having similar choices in health care that other Americans have.

Veterans Choice by the Numbers

VA Health

the need for greater choice for veterans

In early 2014, a massive investigation brought to light extensive delays and manipulation by staff in scheduling disabled veterans for health care appointments in the VA. At least 40 veterans died awaiting appointments at the Phoenix VA Medical Center alone.

Department policies and individual VA leaders encouraged VA employees to manipulate the scheduling system to make the wait-time statistics look better than the reality for disabled veterans seeking care. A VA inspector general report on the Phoenix facility revealed a secret waiting list that showed veterans waiting as long as 115 days to receive care.

In response, Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, which created the Veterans Choice Program. Through VCP, a disabled veteran can be treated by a non-VA doctor if he or she:

  • Is unable to schedule an appointment at a VA hospital or clinic within 30 days;
  • Lives more than 40 miles from a VA facility or otherwise faces a travel burden;
  • Lives in a state without a VA medical facility; or
  • Lives in Alaska, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico

As of March 7, 2018, more than 2 million veterans have received care in their communities under VCP. More than 200,000 additional doctors and medical providers across the country participate in the VCP, beyond the doctors in the VA system. Congress recently passed the VA MISSION Act, which provided additional funding and permanent authorization for a new program that will upgrade VCP and streamline health care for veterans.

VCP had some early implementation challenges, but remains a commonsense reform to allow veterans easier access to the free market health care system. It is not privatization. It is one part of a system of health care available to veterans, including VA hospitals and clinics and community doctors and medical providers.

The American people strongly support giving veterans more choices. In a 2016 Gallup poll, 91 percent of Americans supported allowing disabled veterans to go to any doctor who takes Medicare.  

expanding health care options for veterans

The VA is not outsourcing health care for veterans to the private sector; it is expanding their options for care. More than two-thirds of all health care appointments for veterans in 2017 were at traditional VA hospitals and clinics, with only 13 percent through VCP. This rate has been consistent for the last four years. In 2017, more than 57 million appointments occurred in VA operated hospitals and clinics, while the VCP processed 8.7 million claims.

VCP also is not taking resources from VA hospitals and clinics. Congress has increased funding for VA health care outside of VCP by nearly 25 percent since 2015, the first year of the program’s operation. The annual budget for VA health care in 2018 – not counting VCP – has increased by more than $13 billion since 2015. Congress and the president have pursued an all-of-the-above strategy to improve health care for our nation’s veterans.

VA Health Care Spending ($ Billions) – Not Counting VCP

VA Health

The recent reforms continue the history and tradition of veteran health care. Since 1945, the VA has had programs and authorities to let veterans receive medical care from doctors in their communities and outside the VA system. The “Hometown Program” for treating disabled veterans in their communities was started at the end of World War II. There have been at least seven similar programs over the years to allow veterans to see doctors and dentists in their communities at government expense. The goal of all these programs is to deliver the best quality health care to the veteran.