Congress explores possibility of joining military, VA hospitals

The verdict should be in next month on whether a five-year test of a large, jointly-operated Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital in Chicago is a success.

The DoD, the VA, the Government Accountability Office and a separate auditor all are expected to issue reports on the Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago. The joint DoD-VA hospital opened in 2010 and treats active-duty military members and their families as well as retirees and other veterans, the Daily Caller reported.

Although there are several other joint DoD-VA facilities around the country, none is nearly as large as Lovell, according to the article. The hospital also was designed as a joint hospital.

In fact, the article calls the Lovell pilot project part of a "dramatic transformation" being explored by Congress to merge VA hospitals with DoD facilities.

Unlike the massively backlogged VA hospitals, Lovell sees most patients within a day and nearly all within a month, according to the article. It ranks among the five best VA hospitals in overall wait times, has high patient satisfaction ratings and was named a top performing hospital by a national hospital accreditation group, the Daily Caller reported. The hospital administrator is active-duty military.

The publication reports that the joint hospital leverages DoD's experience in caring for female military members and military spouses to better treat women vets. The VA's experience in mental health, meanwhile, results in better mental-health treatment for active-duty members.

The Army Corps of Engineers has already taken over VA construction projects after massive cost overruns, according to the article. When it comes to operations, although the hospital's annual costs have come in $12 million below what was expected, overall cost savings could be a wash.

Criticism of the VA continues unabated. In an opinion piece in Colorado Springs' Gazette, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado) criticized corruption and "bureaucratic incompetence" that causes veterans to suffer and costs taxpayers more money than necessary. The VA repeatedly fails to hold anyone accountable for cost overruns and other failures, he said.

Meanwhile, Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford, both Oklahoma Republicans, introduced legislation seeking to add accountability by giving the VA's regional Veterans Integrated Services Networks more authority to fire hospital administrators, The Oklahoman reported.

Despite the criticism, a recent study found that VA hospitals compare favorably with other hospitals in treating older men for heart failure, pneumonia and heart attacks. On the other hand, the VA Office of Inspector General reported in January that the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) failed to spend nearly $2 billion in funds designed for veterans to visit civilian doctors in 2013, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Funds required to pay for outside care were underestimated, the OIG found.

To learn more:
- read the Daily Caller article
- check out The Gazette op-ed
- see The Oklahoman article