Texas Senator Ted Cruz partnered last week with Concerned Veterans for America executive director Mark Lucas to pen the editorial “Congress must expand health care choices for veterans” for the Houston Chronicle.
The editorial begins with the story of a woman named Linda, whose husband died as a result of Veterans Administration failure. It goes on to suggest two ideas that Cruz and Lucas say “can turn the tide at the VA and provide positive impact: increasing accountability and giving our veterans more choice and control over the health care benefits they’ve earned.”
The recently-passed VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act made strong inroads toward reaching the first of those goals.
“Unlike previous legislative ‘fixes’ designed to improve the VA, this law has real teeth. It gives VA Secretary David Shulkin greater authority to get rid of unsatisfactory employees and reduces the time it takes to do so. Even better, these former employees will no longer be paid with taxpayer dollars as they undergo the termination process. The measure also allows the secretary to recoup bonuses awarded to employees who engaged in misconduct, affording greater protections to whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing.”
Cruz and Lucas also point out that the Veteran Choice Program has left many vets hamstrung in their efforts to receive care, particularly in its requirement that veterans seek help exclusively at a VA facility if there is one within 40 miles of their home that can see them within 30 days.
The pair further propose that information technology used by the VA be modernized in order to help the organization more effectively provide care.
“Sen. Cruz has sponsored a bill to address this issue by requiring the appointment of a chief information officer at the VHA, equipped to implement and manage a state-of-the-art IT system fully integrated with VHA clinics and medical centers. This straightforward, simple solution will improve health care outcomes and help remedy the long wait times that have compromised the health and safety of our veterans.”
But perhaps the biggest change proposed by Cruz and Lucas is to implement a new administrative process for the VA provider system, in an effort to expand veterans’ choices about “when and where to seek care”.
“As Concerned Veterans for America outlined in its bipartisan report, Fixing Veterans Health Care Taskforce, a government-chartered nonprofit or accountable care organization should administer the VA’s current provider system and allow for the creation of a veterans insurance program to offer veterans the ability to access care in the private sector with their VA benefits in a way similar to how most federal employees get coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program.”
As with Cruz’ previous proposals concerning ACA replacement, the intent of the proposed changes is to put patients in charge of their own healthcare rather than forcing them to rely on government-based care providers.
“Veterans should be able to access state-of-the-art care at any time, close to home with the benefits they’ve earned. And it is our hope that by bringing accountability to the VA and empowering veterans with health care choice, no veteran will ever have to go through what Linda and her husband experienced.”
Those who have willingly chosen to put their lives on the line – and their families – deserve nothing less.