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What Conservatives Should Do If They Are Really Concerned About Veterans Health Care

The scandal at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs over long wait times to receive health care and fraudulent reporting by hospital administrators is a serious problem that needs to be addressed immediately. Yesterday, a preliminary report from the VA Inspector General confirmed many of the initial problems, finding that:

a) at least 1,700 veterans waiting for care were purposely withheld from the official electronic wait list because administrators knew they could not receive care within a 14-day period that was the goal;

b) at the Phoenix VA hospital at the center of the controversy, the average wait time for an initial primary care appointment was in fact 115 days, and not 24 days as reported by the Phoenix hospital;

c) there were multiple paper wait lists used to track patients in addition to the electronic wait list that were invisible to federal oversight.

Other reports coming out indicate that “cooking the books” is a much broader problem within the VA.

Secretary Eric Shinseki has called the findings “reprehensible” and is “not waiting to set things straight.” In fact, Shinseki, a disabled Vietnam veteran who served in the Army for 38 years, has fought an uphill battle to reform the VA bureaucracy in a number of ways, according to experts at the Center for American Progress. But that hasn’t stopped numerous elected officials from calling for his resignation, including, at last count, 74 Republican members of Congress.

We all agree that veterans deserve the best possible care. But if conservatives were truly outraged at the prospect of veterans not receiving the health care they deserve, there’s another step they could take right now to expand coverage to not just thousands, but hundreds of thousands of veterans, and almost 5 million Americans overall. Instead, they are standing directly in the way.

There are over a quarter million uninsured veterans in states that are currently refusing to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. These veterans are not receiving delayed care, they aren’t receiving any care at all. While many people assume that all veterans have health benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs, as of 2013 only two-thirds were eligible and just one-third were enrolled. The map below shows a state-by-state breakdown of those affected:

medicaid_vets

Conservative legislators have been quick to condemn the VA’s actions, but that hasn’t stopped them from voting again and again to repeal the Affordable Care Act that expands coverage to millions of people, including veterans. And it hasn’t stopped them from defending state lawmakers who continue to refuse to expand Medicaid under the ACA and deny coverage to veterans and millions of other Americans.

BOTTOM LINE: The scandal at the VA is serious, and those at fault should be held accountable. But those who would repeal the Affordable Care Act are at the heart of another scandal: over 250,000 veterans in 24 states have no access to care at all because of conservative lawmakers’ refusal to expand Medicaid.