House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is floating the idea of privatizing the Department of Veterans Affairs following multiple reports of abuses and delays of care at the agency. “I still like the idea, and especially now,” Boehner said in response to a question from the Columbus Dispatch about whether he still supported turning over veterans’ care to the free market. Boehner had considered the option “more than two decades ago,” reporter Jessica Wehrman notes.
Boehner added that “until we understand what’s happening and until we understand whether it can be fixed or how it can be fixed, all veterans seeking care shouldn’t have to wait” and said that reports of some veterans dying waiting to access care pointed to “systematic” problems within the VA.
Privatizing or partially privatizing veterans health care was most recently considered during the 2012 presidential election by Mitt Romney, who proposed giving servicemembers government vouchers to “choose whether they want to go in the government system or in a private system with the money that follows them.” Veterans groups quickly rejected the idea, arguing that access to VA-sponsored care through private providers would undermine the existing system that is exclusively suited to meet veterans health needs and treat war injuries and could lead veterans to “lose the many safeguards built into the VA system.” Following the backlash, Romney abandoned the proposal.
While veterans have struggled to gain adequate access to care since the Kennedy administration, the health services they do receive are the best in the nation. The annual Independent Budget, an aspirational budget published by the nation’s leading veteran organizations, has consistently found that the government-run VA serves as “a model health-care provider that has led the way in various areas of medical research, specialized services, and health-care technology.” It provides “quality and expertise on veterans’ health care” that “cannot be adequately duplicated in the private sector” and has become “the most efficient and cost-effective health-care system in the nation,” the document notes. A 2005 survey from the RAND Corporation similarly found that “VA patients were more likely to receive recommended care” and “received consistently better care across the board, including screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow up.” The nation’s largest integrated health care network also outperforms other health systems in delivering chronic and preventive care, treating diabetes.
A 2013 survey released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that 93 percent of veterans who use the VA health care system have a favorable impression of it.