Veterans’ advocates say reverse damage to VA healthcare under Trump

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Biden administration policies need to strengthen services

Suzanne Gordon and Jasper Craven, two fellows at the Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute (VHPI), spoke with Cliff Kelley on Saturday, November 21, during the America’s Heroes Group radio program about veterans’ policy proposals and potential concerns for a new Congress, and the Biden administration, as Washington enters a new era.

Gordon and Craven spoke in detail about the need to reverse the damage that’s been done to the VA healthcare system as the Trump administration pushed an aggressive privatization agenda. They also demanded lawmakers strengthen and improve veterans’ health services both inside and outside of the VA, most critically by addressing long-standing VA staffing and funding problems.

The pair also spoke specifically about the danger of a recent Trump decision to totally privatize compensation and pension (C&P) exams outside of VA walls.

During these appointments, medical staff members pore over military health records and conduct tests to understand whether certain injuries — both physical and mental — are connected to time in the ranks.

Over the years, more and more of these exams have been farmed out to private sector companies with poor track records. A 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the major C&P contractors routinely subjected veterans to long wait times and made significant errors in exam reports. The GAO also found that the VA was unable to oversee how efficient, effective, and costly these private contractors were in their work. (A year later, the GAO said the VA was still unable to effectively gauge these metrics.)

Zooming out at general trends under Trump, Gordon explained that the VA is now being held hostage to massive private corporations that are seeing untold numbers of VA patients and providing care the VA could deliver at lower cost and with higher quality.

There is no oversight to assure that private providers do not recommend unnecessary, ineffective, or even dangerous, treatments to enhance their bottom line. Veterans, for instance, are now being permitted to go to private sector emergency rooms when a VA facility is only a mile away.

Gordon said that this anecdote is only the tip of a very large policy iceberg that Congress and the new administration must expose and reverse.

The new administration must also ensure that the VA has the required funds to accommodate an increase in veterans seeking benefits from the VA due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the first surge of the novel virus, veteran unemployment skyrocketed from three to 12 percent. As veterans and their spouses lose their jobs and thus health insurance, many will turn to the VA for healthcare.

This will mean a significant new surge of patients into the system. In order to care for those patients, VA will not only need more money to hire more staff but will have to improve infrastructure to accommodate these new patients.

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