Veteran-centered plan embraces community and VA health care

November 30, 2017

By Congressman Doug Lamborn

There is a growing conversation about the future of access to veterans' health care across the nation. As the longest war continues, it is more apparent that the answer for a previous generation of veterans has fallen significantly short in supporting the needs of Post-911 veterans.

It's past time for an honest, nonpartisan look at what's working and what isn't. It's time for bold, veteran-focused health-care solutions. While new ideas will inevitably come under attack based on fear of change, we must think big — our veterans deserve it.

From the darkest days of 2014's U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs scandal uncovering falsified veteran care wait lists — as long as 76 days in my home district in Colorado Springs — we arrived at a temporary solution that most veterans and many within the VA agree needs significant improvement.

To solve the crisis of 2014, Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, known as the "Choice Act," "VACAA," or "Choice."  The greatest failure of Choice was establishment of procedures requiring veterans to gain VA pre-approval for where and when they could use civilian care. Intentional or not, those procedures mean the bureaucracy still has control, and veterans have few real choices.

While never intended to be a permanent fix, Choice expands veterans' options somewhat, but not enough. Our veterans deserve the same degree of options available to other Americans, including congressional employees, federal employees and active-duty military.

As an example, since 1997, civilian physicians have partnered with Defense Department medical providers nationwide to improve access to care for active-duty military and authorized family members. The success is access to care on military installations and from civilian physicians in the community.

Since 2014, community physicians have partnered with the VA through the Choice program and are eager to continue this option for the veterans community.

On Nov. 21, I introduced the Veteran's Empowerment Act, eliminating the need for the VA to pre-approve a veteran's Choice to use civilian medical providers. To be clear: the legislation leaves the current VA medical system fully intact as an unchanged option for veterans.

In practice, the Veteran's Empowerment Act gives a veteran the freedom — the true choice — to decide on their own to receive care in VA facilities or from civilian physicians. It takes the decision away from the bureaucracy and gives it solely to the veteran. Despite most VA employees being good people who want to care for veterans, the bureaucratic system itself impedes their ability to be responsive, flexible and innovative. I want to ensure veterans of today and tomorrow receive timely access to quality care.

Some veterans get great care from the VA and will want to continue doing so, which is definitely protected under this legislation. But for veterans who don't trust the current system to meet their needs, isn't it simply wrong to force them to use it?

(Note: Critics have inaccurately claimed this approach would "privatize" the VA.  The Washington Post gave this claim three Pinocchio's… twice. Articles are here and here.)

To view this article in its original format, see Colorado Politics. To read the bill, click here.

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