In my prior VA blog, I detailed how political shenanigans by the U.S. congressional republicans are holding up the passage of the VA omnibus bill, (Veterans First Act) after it was voted out of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee in an unanimous, bipartisan manner in May, 2016.
It seems that Mr. Jeff Miller (FL-R), the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and campaign advisor for Donald Trump’s presidency and his 10 point VA reform, had other tactics in mind. In addition, the congressional republicans established the “Commission on Care” board with members who were mostly medical industry executives with the bias towards the VA becoming more of a privatized entity. Congressman Miller along with other conservatives like Senator John McCain are convinced that the VHA system is permanently broken and not worth waiting for the VA Secretary McDonald and MYVA Chairman General Joe Robles to have the time to successfully accomplish the transformation of the VA system.
The American Legion on their web site points out that “Members of a congressionally appointed Commission on Care, many of whom are medical industry executives, are reportedly pushing lawmakers in Washington to support long-term plans to accelerate privatization of VA health care.
The 6/9/16 American Prospect report, “McCain Pulls A Bait-and-Switch on Vets,” by Suzanne Gordan reports the following: “And what’s wrong with “The Care They Deserve Act? Just about everything, which is why many service organizations like the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and Vietnam Veterans of America oppose the plan.”
The Commission Care 11 members established from the 2014 “Choice Act,” met about a dozen times over a two year period to create a 300 page report which was unveiled in July, 2016. Three out of the 11 participants did not sign the final report, with two commissioners, including former VA employee and Concerned Veterans For America senior adviser Darin Selnick, and Stewart Hickey, a retired Marine Corps major and former national executive director of AMVETS. Commissioner Michael Blecker, executive director for Swords to Plowshares, also did not sign. They were opposed to the final draft of the report.
The republican chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Jeff Miller has announced on his website, the passage on 9/26/16 of several veterans’ related bills as an alternative to the Senate’s Veterans First Act. Congressman Miller claims that the alternate bills force the VA to use common sense (The Care They Deserve Act?).
These republican politically motivated steps are undermining the progress that the current 2 year tenured VA Secretary Bob McDonald, and the Chairman of the MYVA Advisory Committee, General Robles, have made.
The VA Secretary McDonald has been a Procter & Gamble CEO, West Point graduate, and former Army Captain. Around March 2015, the VA Secretary McDonald and President Obama announced the formation of a blue ribbon unit which would operate independently as an oversight team, assigned with the goal of improving VA medical care delivery services. The former CEO, president of USAA and retired Army Major-General Robles did agreed to serve as chairman of this Veterans Affairs Department’s newly formed MyVA Advisory Committee.
Both of these gentlemen have actually served in the military and the highly reputable organizations that they are associated with, USAA and P & G which did extremely well under their tenure. These are two older guys doing this job as a labor of love because they truly care about the vets and both are very competent. They are up to the task of truly transforming the VA system to be a top notch organization, meeting the needs of our military heroes if they receive legislative support.
The VA Secretary, Bob McDonald along with the MyVA Chairman, Generable Joe Robles, have been asking for legislative action to enact their requested “Veterans’ First Act,” which was unanimously voted out of the U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in May, 2016. They want their recommendations passed so that they can achieve the goal to transform the VA culture around to better meet the needs of our veterans. And they are formally asking on 9/1/16, that any attempts to delay passage of the Veterans’ First Act due to political expediency, end.
(Source: Website of Department of Veterans Affairs, dated 9/1/16) The following is the letter that the VA Secretary McDonald penned to ask for legislative support:
“VA stands firmly behind the President’s final assessment of the Commission on Care report, and we thank the Commission for their hard work. ”
“With input from Congress, Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), and government partners, VA has thoroughly reviewed each and every recommendation to determine whether they were feasible and advisable within the scope of the law. The President and VA find 15 of the 18 recommendations in the Commission’s report feasible and advisable, and we have already accomplished or have been working on 12 out of the 18 through our ongoing MyVA transformation. The Department has already started implementing the Commission’s recommendations that the President and VA found feasible and advisable.”
Transforming VA into a Veteran-Centric Department
“Two years ago, the President charged me with transforming VA into the high-performing, Veteran-centric organization our Veterans deserve. I am thrilled to see that through our MyVA transformation initiative. Though there is certainly much more work to be done, VA has already made irrefutable progress in increasing Veterans’ access to quality health care and the benefits they have earned.”
“This past March, VA set a new record for completed appointments: 5.3 million inside VA, 730,000 more than in March 2014. VA increased access to Veterans through an integrated system of care. VHA staff and Choice contractors created over 3 million authorizations for Veterans to receive care in the private sector from October 2015 through July 2016. This is a 42 percent increase in authorizations when compared to the same time period last year. From FY 2014 to FY 2015, Community Care appointments increased about 20 percent from 17.7 million in FY14 to 21.3 Million. Clinical workload is up 11 percent in the past two years. Nearly 97 percent of appointments are now completed within 30 days of the Veteran’s preferred date; 22 percent are same-day appointments; average wait times are five days for primary care, six days for specialty care, and two days for mental health care. Nearly 90 percent of Veterans now say they are “satisfied or completely satisfied” with the timeliness of their appointments.”
On Commission’s Recommendation to Establish VHA Board of Directors
“Overall, we found 15 of the 18 recommendations feasible and advisable, and are working to implement them. However, VA strongly disagrees with the Commission on its proposed “board of directors” to oversee the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Such a board is neither feasible nor advisable for both constitutional and practical reasons.”
Increasing Access to Health Care is a Shared Goal
“We do, however, strongly agree with the idea of external advice and counsel to ensure the VA operating with the greatest degree of efficiency and effectiveness for Veterans. VA is already advised by our new MyVA Advisory Committee, which has been hard at work since March 2015 applying the members’ extensive experience in customer service and organizational change to our transformational challenge. They are leaders in business, medicine, government, and in Veteran advocacy. Among them are eight Veterans like: Major General Joe Robles who after spending 30 years in the Army became President and CEO for USAA; Dr. Richard Carmona, a Special Forces Vietnam Veteran and the 17th Surgeon General of the United States; and Navy Veteran Dr. Connie Mariano, who was the first military woman to serve as White House Physician to the President, the first woman Director of the White House Medical Unit, and the first Filipino American in US History to become a Navy Rear Admiral. These are innovative, resourceful, respected leaders who are advising us on transformation. They know business. They know customer service. And, they know Veterans.”
“I strongly support the Commission’s intent that creating a high-performing, integrated health care system that encompasses both VA and private care is critical to serving the needs of Veterans. In fact, VA has outlined our approach to achieve this same goal in our Plan to Consolidate Community Care, submitted to Congress in October 2015. This plan would provide Veterans with the full spectrum of healthcare services and more choice without sacrificing VA’s foundational health services on which many Veterans depend.”
“At the same time, it is critical that we preserve and continue to improve the VA health care system and ensure that VA fulfills its mission. Veteran Service Organizations, having decades of experience advocating for generations of our Nation’s Veterans, have made it crystal clear that they believe VA is the best place for Veterans to receive care. Many VSOs fear that the Commission’s vision would compromise VA’s ability to provide specialized care for spinal cord injury, prosthetics, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health needs, which the private sector is not as equipped to provide. We share their concern and therefore do not support any policies or legislation that will lead to privatization, which I am pleased the Commission did not recommend outright. Privatization is not transformational. It’s more along the lines of dereliction of duty.”
“VA is well on its way towards realizing the integrated health care network envisioned by the Commission, but we cannot get there alone. Congress is our board of directors. If Veterans are to receive the care and services they deserve, Congress must do its job as our board. Abdicating leadership and constitutional responsibilities by creating more bureaucracy hurts Veterans and slows the progress of our MyVA transformation. Congress must act on key pieces of legislation like our Plan to Consolidate Community Care, our plan to reform the claims appeals process, and the President’s budget request for VA.”
“We, along with VSOs, have worked hard with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to develop these critical pieces of legislation. We know that the vast majority in Congress understand how critical these issues are and are ready to take action. I call on leadership from both parties to put political expediency aside and do what is best for our Veterans and for taxpayers. Only then will we be able to truly transform VA into the 21st century organization Veterans deserve.”
A link to the Commission on Care Final Report may be found here.
A link to the Secretary’s letter to the President in response to the report may be found here
Links to the President’s statement and letter may be found at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/09/01/statement–presidents/ press release-response-commission-care-report…