VA considers healthcare merger with the Pentagon

VA logo
The VA is considering a healthcare merger with the Pentagon.

The Department of Veterans Affairs may merge its healthcare system with the Pentagon's, a move that would essentially unite VA healthcare with the Tricare program.

VA spokesman Curt Cashour told the Associated Press that the move would be a "game-changer" and would "provide better care for veterans at a lower cost," but veterans groups aren't convinced. Four of the largest veterans groups—the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS and Disabled American Veterans—have said they oppose the idea, according to the article. 

“VA is a healthcare provider and the VFW would oppose any effort to erode the system specifically created to serve the healthcare needs of our nation’s veterans by reducing VA’s role to a payer of care for veterans,” Bob Wallace, executive director of VFW’s Washington office, told the publication. 

Cashour said that the conversations about a potential merger reflect President Donald Trump's goals to transform how government runs, and the approach is "precisely the type of businesslike, commonsense approach that rarely exists in Washington. 

RELATED: VA cut what Secretary Shulkin calls 'excessive' email load to to give doctors more time with patients

The VA has taken steps to privatize parts of health system over the past several months. It was revealed in May that it may close more than 1,100 facilities to move more care into the private sector. Its Choice program has also been extended; it allows veterans who may not have nearby access to a VA facility to instead see private providers. 

During his confirmation hearing in February, Shulkin told a Senate committee the “Department of Veterans Affairs will not be privatized under my watch,” but indicated he was willing to expand private-care partnerships with VA hospitals in order to avoid building costly new medical centers. 

OIG finds wait time issues at two VA facilities

Meanwhile, two new reports from the VA Office of the Inspector General found that the issues with the department's health system that kicked off a nationwide scandal in 2014 persist at some of its facilities. 

In the first report, the OIG details the story of a longtime patient at the Atlantic County Community Based Outpatient Clinic, who visited in late 2015 to schedule an appointment with a psychologist. He was told he would have to wait three months for the appointment, and committed suicide in the interim. 

The OIG investigation identified multiple points at which staff failed to ensure patients had timely appointments. Staff members failed to follow-up on cancellations and no-shows, and failed to provide adequate supervision for a number of clinic processes. 

RELATED: House passes VETS Act that would ease telehealth licensing restrictions at the VA 

In a second report, the OIG found that wait times Eastern Colorado Health Care System used unofficial wait lists, and leaders were uninformed on accurate wait time information for patients in the system. 

The VA, however, said that these are isolated issues, according to an article from The Wall Street Journal. 

"Neither of these issues is system or persistent and the reports in no way reflect the current state of play at VA," Cashour told the WSJ.