American politicians agree on very few things, but one factor that tends to bring people across the aisle is providing care for our veterans. With the VA facing fallout, this issue is becoming even more urgent.
Over the past few years, both Congress and the American people have started to see the exact state of disrepair hospitals of US Department of Veterans Affairs are in. As retired service members and veterans try to use their health insurance, they experience endless wait-times and limited care from overwhelmed staff. The American people have called on their leaders to make a change.
2018 could be the year Congress turns around the VA and makes improvements to veteran care. With the VA facing fallout, now is the time to take action.
VA Facing Fallout: What Americans Need to Know
In November 2017, Congress started the process of VA reform by introducing updates to the Veterans Choice Act. This bill allows veterans to seek medical treatment outside of existing VA facilities. According to FedSmith, wait-times at VA healthcare facilities have increased by 61% overall since 2014, proving the need for additional reform.
Currently, there are multiple paths patients can take to find healthcare treatment outside of the VA’s 1,233 treatment facilities. However, the process is convoluted and frustrates many veterans. Some give up and try to stick to VA appointments, while others don’t seek treatment at all.
What lines are growing, veterans are suffering, and the overall health of the country is declining because of this lack of care. Now with the VA facing fallout, it is time for compromise and reform.
Updates to the Veterans Choice Act Failed Last November
While changes to the Veterans Choice Act were approved by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee last year, the bill failed to make it to the floor for a vote. Not only did the holiday season limit the amount of time senators had to review legislature, but members of Congress were focused on tax cuts and passing the budget.
In the new year, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) says he plans to continue working to improve military benefits and conditions at the VA with guidance from the White House. He hopes that with backing from the President, he can create a bill that Congress will pass quickly so they can enact it into law.
Unfortunately, Congress has struggled for more than a year to pass VA reform, so this could continue to be a slow process depending on what the White House provides and how members of Congress react.
The VA Also Has Funding Issues
Another reason for the VA facing fallout in Congress is because of funding. In August, Congress passed a $2.1 billion spending measure to fund the VA before it ran out of money. In December, another $2.1 billion was passed.
Experts hope the funding issue is addressed in the latest government-spending measure, which is due to pass before February, 8th — the next deadline for a government shutdown. However, it’s more likely that the VA will keep receiving emergency funding without any concrete solutions.
The Hill reports that without funding, the VA will receive a 70% cut in funding, which would result in 2,800 of an estimated 10,400 healthcare sites closing. This could affect more than 9 million patients who would lose their care — especially if reform isn’t passed to allow veterans to easily seek treatment from the private sector.
The VA needs at least $3.6 billion to continue its funding. Not only would funding cuts hurt veterans, they would also eliminate more than 100,000 jobs within the VA.
What’s Next for Congress?
Problems with funding and wait-times compound on each other.
Without the proper funding, wait-times in healthcare facilities that remain open will skyrocket. There will be fewer professionals to take care of veterans and more veterans to take care of. Similarly, as long as Congress makes it hard for veterans to find treatment outside of the VA, they will have nowhere to go. They will have to put up with the long wait-times and limited care.
Congress can’t afford to pass just one measure. Our veterans deserve better, and the federal employees who work in the VA to serve them need to know that they’re valued. Without proper budgetary and choice reform, both patients and healthcare workers will continue to suffer.