Veterans Disability Info Blog

Secretary McDonald Does Not Favor Shifting VA Healthcare to the Private Sector

I recently read Secretary Robert A. McDonald’s Op Ed piece in the October 24, 2014 Baltimore Sun. I commend Secretary McDonald for his proactive approach to tackling the significant problems in the VA. As a veterans disability lawyer I keep a close watch on the important statements coming from the VA Secretary.

His piece dealt extensively with why the VA cannot just provide vouchers to allow veterans to treat with private health care facilities. He acknowledged that given the problems with scheduling that this is a fair question.

He appears not to favor that approach because it would undermine what he considers to be the three pillars that enable the VA to provide holistic healthcare. He cites the three pillars as (1) research leading to advances in medical care; (2) training that is essential to build and maintain proficiency of care; and (3) the delivery of clinical care to help those in need.

I agree with Secretary McDonald’s premise that the VA serves as a tremendous institution for research and training, and I acknowledge that this system has led to many developments and advancements in medical care.

Moreover, it is true that the VA hospitals are affiliated with many teaching institutions and many doctors receive their training at some point in their careers at a VA facility. Therefore, I do not favor an elimination of the VA healthcare system because it does serve a valuable purpose in this respect. However, his third pillar regarding delivery of clinical care to help those in need could be assisted by allowing vouchers in certain situations.

For instance, vouchers could be allowed for treatment if VA cannot provide an appointment within a certain amount of time. The private sector could be utilized to handle the overflow from the VA medical system wherein veterans could seek outside care if an appointment cannot be provided by VA in timely fashion.

I do not advocate eliminating the VA system and shifting all healthcare to the private sector necessarily, but certainly the private sector could be utilized to assist VA in catching up with its backlog of appointments.

Part of VA’s problem is that it needs additional facilities to be able to treat more patients. VA doctors are not utilizing the same number of treatment rooms that a private physician would, which slows the doctor’s ability to treat more patients. Clearly, upgrading VA’s treatment infrastructure is an integral part of increasing its capacity to see more patients in a timely fashion.

This will take some time as construction cannot be completed overnight. Therefore, to meet the short term needs of veterans and ensure that they can obtain medical treatment in a timely fashion, a voucher program to allow treatment at private facilities would be a temporary solution and assist with the goal of reducing the backlog.

Overall, I applaud Secretary McDonald’s continued efforts to address significant problems in the VA system. I know that many of my colleagues, fellow veterans benefits lawyers, who handle VA appeals would also praise the Secretary for his proactive approach. 

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