Group proposes major VA healthcare overhaul

A non-profit group advocates a drastic reform of veterans' healthcare that would turn the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) into a not-for-profit corporation, among other measures.

The study, sponsored by Concerned Veterans for America, makes several recommendations for veterans' healthcare, including:

  • Reprioritize veterans' healthcare to emphasize veterans with service-connected disabilities, allowing patients within the system to keep their care access and eligibility
  • Allow currently enrolled veterans to either continue using VA facilities or transfer to subsidized private care, a percentage of which the government would cover through insurance programs with tiered eligibility
  • Split the VHA into a non-profit government corporation and a separate institution that oversees payments and insurance coverage for medical care on behalf of veterans who use healthcare services outside the VA system
  • Require future veterans and veterans not enrolled in the VA system to enter a new system with tiered levels of coverage, under which not all of them would be eligible for subsidies

Under the proposed system, veterans at the Priority 7 and Priority 8 benefit levels, the two lowest in the system, would not be eligible. This accounts for nearly 20 percent of future veterans. The 1.6 million current Priority 7 and Priority 8 veterans would be grandfathered in under the proposal.

But VA Secretary Robert McDonald opposes the proposal. "There is an important role for outside care in the veteran health model to supplement VA's own care, but that role should not diminish or obscure the importance of VA's healthcare system," McDonald said in a statement sent to USA Today. "Reforming VA healthcare cannot be achieved by dismantling it and preventing veterans from receiving the specialized care and services that can only be provided by VA."

McDonald, meanwhile, reiterated his commitment to the "choice card" program, which allows veterans who live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility or face wait times of more than 30 days to seek care from private providers. Last week, McDonald testified before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee about issues with the program, such as confusion over how the 40 miles are measured, the Associated Press reported. "We are for the choice program. We are for outside care," McDonald said, noting that while only 27,000 veterans have made private care appointments, "it's still early days."

To learn more:
- here's the study (.pdf)
- read the USA Today article
- check out the AP story via the U.S. News & World Report