Cruz: VA Must Expand Options For Veterans

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.

It’s About Time Veterans Got The Care They Deserve

The House of Representatives passed two sensible veterans bills Thursday.

H.R. 1181 protects veterans who suffer PTSD or other mental incapacitation from being summarily declared mentally defective and prohibited from owning firearms, without a finding by a jury of their peers.

I can tell you from many personal conversations with Soldiers, some very close to me, that the Army (and to some degree, the other branches) is quick to “Med Board” people who exhibit PTSD symptoms. Not everyone–it depends on how many are in a particular MOS (job) and other factors like how much the government invested in training. So an Airborne Ranger might receive more therapy than an 11-Bravo ground-pounder.

Once cut loose, many of these veterans receive the treatment they badly need; many don’t and languish in dark suicidal places. (Parenthetically, if you want to support the best non-government program for treating wounded vets, give freely to the Roever Foundation. I offer no apology for plugging them. They do what others can’t or won’t do.)

Medically retired veterans on disability for mental incapacitation have been ripe for denial of Second Amendment rights. Not every vet is the “Deer Hunter” but they’ve been treated that way. There’s absolutely no reason a veteran who is receiving treatment shouldn’t be able to exercise Second Amendment rights–with an important caveat.

That being said, the caveat is that someone needs to determine whether a veteran should be adjudicated by his peers to be mentally defective. Tragedies like the murder of former SEAL Chris Kyle could have been (potentially) prevented if there were a procedure to identify and classify truly disturbed individuals.

Many states have erred on the side of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. H.R. 1181 gives veterans the same rights as other citizens, regardless of why they separated from the service.

H.R. 1259 is an absolutely awesome bill, if it’s actually implemented. It reads, “To amend title 38, United States Code, to provide for the removal or demotion of employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs based on performance or misconduct, and for other purposes.”

No agency is further under the bus to get rid of the worst employees than the VA. The level of opaqueness, coverups, pencil-whipping, and overall apathy towards those they are specifically employed to serve is shocking and disgusting. This culture has built up over years of neglect and papering over of real problems.

Now is the time to clean house at the VA. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin has a near-impossible task ahead of him as it is. Without a law allowing him special power to dispense with government employee protections, the VA would languish like it did under Eric Shinseki and Bob McDonald. McDonald was supposed to clean things up after Shinseki disgraced himself, but got absolutely nowhere.

Reading the first part of §719 alone makes me feel like Shulkin has a chance where the others never did.

Ҥ 719. Employees: removal, demotion, or suspension based on performance or misconduct

“(a) In General.—The Secretary may remove, demote, or suspend an individual who is an employee of the Department if the Secretary determines the performance or misconduct of the individual warrants such removal, demotion, or suspension. If the Secretary so removes, demotes, or suspends such an individual, the Secretary may—

“(1) remove the individual from the civil service (as defined in section 2101 of title 5);

“(2) demote the individual by means of a reduction in grade for which the individual is qualified, that the Secretary determines is appropriate, and that reduces the annual rate of pay of the individual; or

“(3) suspend the individual.

(Bold mine.)

If this becomes law, it gives President Trump reason to hold Shulkin’s feet to the fire and demand real reform. Veterans all over the country will applaud.

In fact, were I Shulkin, I’d institute the kind of feedback system that companies use to rate personal-contact employees (like Uber does). Every call, every appointment should be rated by the patient or veteran being served. The first place to get overhauled has to be those who have personal contact. Good ratings means keep your job. Poor ratings means you’re gone.

Then proceed to the management and administrative side. This system takes the burden off supervisors and administrators to determine who is worthy and who isn’t. Then the incompetent administrators will stick out like sore thumbs–I’d let the employees under them rate their bosses. And instead of kicking the jerks upstairs as is done so often in government, they should be kicked out the door.

I hope both of these sensible and no-nonsense bills become law quickly. Kudos to Reps. David Roe (R, TN-1), Conaway, Wenstrup, Dunn, Bilirakis, and Sessions for their sponsorship of H.R. 1181; and again to Roe and his 28 co-sponsors for H.R. 1259.