(Nov. 11) The United States is doing a better job of taking care of its veterans than it was seven or eight years ago, but it’s still not doing well enough. On this Veterans Day, lawmakers and administrators should commit themselves to keep improving until they get it right.

One of the best reforms ever made to the Department of Veterans Affairs was subsidizing veterans to go outside the VA hospital system for care when the treatments they need are available closer to their homes. This first was accomplished on a limited basis through 2014 legislation crafted by then-Sen. John McCain and Sen. Bernie Sanders and signed into law by then-President Barack Obama. With President Trump’s full support and eventual signature, Congress expanded the opportunity for outside-the-system care in 2018.

Even the New York Times, whose news pages are loath to credit Trump for anything, reported that “the urgent care component is viewed largely as a success.” The New York Times reported, though, that various roadblocks have hampered the Veterans Choice program’s expansion into primary and specialist care. Among those roadblocks was the coronavirus outbreak, which made the VA nervous about allowing more visits outside the system. (The good news there, though, is that the pandemic spurred the VA to expand its telemedicine capacity, which might mean more and better options for homebound veterans.)

Still, Veterans Choice should be made almost universal, into a virtual voucher system, but with the government payout limited to amounts similar to Medicare formularies and veterans allowed to supplement the VA payout if they do indeed want more expensive options. Patients benefit from having alternatives, and the VA itself (and thus the taxpayers) might actually save money in the long run by reducing the need for hospitalizations if patients take care of ailments sooner and closer to home….

[The full column is here.] 


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