Veterans Administration top brass are trying again to sabotage the Choice program, which supposedly allows vets to see a doctor outside the delay-plagued VA system. On Thursday, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson will ask Congress for permission to raid the $10 billion Choice fund and spend the money elsewhere. It’s an underhanded betrayal, but no surprise. Since the celebrated VA reform law was passed last August, VA administrators, from Secretary Robert McDonald down to union underlings, have been trying every trick to block sick vets from getting outside treatment. The bureaucrats are more concerned with keeping the money inside the dysfunctional agency than caring for vets, even if that means they languish and suffer on wait lists.
From Day One, the law was designed to promise vets choice but make it hard to get any. Public employee union bigs like Alma Lee of the American Federation of Government Employees fought against the law, warning that sending vets out for private care would hurt the VA’s bottom line. She meant union jobs.
Last year’s VA “reform” bill says that any vet who has waited more than 30 days for an appointment or lives more than 40 miles from a VA facility can see a civilian doctor on Uncle Sam. But before seeing an outside doctor, the vet has to get a letter from the VA secretary confirming that a VA appointment is unavailable. Good luck with that. Roadblock number two is at the doctor’s office. The Choice Card tells the doctor to call the VA “to ensure that treatment has been authorized.” Good luck getting that call answered.
Last winter, the VA sent Choice Cards to every vet in its system. Millions of vets got cards but no choice. The Veterans of Foreign Wars found that only one third of sick vets eligible for choice were offered it. Bureaucrats also commonly delay sending a vet’s medical records to the civilian doctor or hospital. No record, no treatment.
Same with follow-up care. Vets are waiting more than a month after surgery to get an OK for physical therapy, which should begin a couple of days after surgery.
The VA is run by and for the unions, and they have more power than members of Congress. The law promised “accountability” but there’s been none. A staggering 110 VA facilities manipulated wait times and kept secret lists, but only one person — and a low-level one — has been fired for it. “What the hell happened to the rest of them?” asked House Speaker John Boehner.
Plenty of politicians, including President Barack Obama, are siding with the unions and against the vets. Obama tried to eliminate Choice funding from his budget this year, and move the money back inside the VA. House Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) blocked that trick as a “non-starter.”
Let’s hope Miller shows the same backbone on Thursday when Gibson rolls out his latest ploy to kill the Choice program. The law says the program lasts until the $10 billion runs out. Gibson wants to drain it to pay for hepatitis C medications.
The VA may need an additional appropriation from Congress to fund hepatitis C drugs. It’s hard to tell because the people making the case for it are the same ones who have lied year after year about wait times. Miller has pointed out that the VA never even uses up its annual funding. But if the funds are actually needed, let Congress appropriate them without snuffing out Choice. After all, Congress made a whopping $4 billion appropriation for Ebola programs, most of which ended up halfway around the globe for a disease outbreak that petered out. Congress can meet the needs of vets here at home.
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