Democrat: Shrink VA health system for veterans’ sake

By Jory Heckman
Federal News Radio

In the days leading up to Memorial Day, a Maryland congressman says a smaller, more specialized Department of Veterans Affairs would better serve American service members.

“You can kind of see a model evolving where the VA is not the place of general health care for the veterans, but the place of highly-specialized care where skilled professionals are particularly well-equipped to deal with issues that veterans have based on their service. But then for routine care, the veterans might prefer to just access the general health care system,” Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) said on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

To further reach out to veterans, Delaney is hosting the Veterans’ Constituent Services Workshop Tuesday in Germantown, Md. Caseworkers and representatives from federal, state and local agencies will be on hand to help veterans with health care benefits, pension and compensation claims, replacement of medals and discharge papers.

A flag with the names of veterans hangs in the Sacramento Veterans Affairs Medical Center. (AP)

Delaney said that he agrees with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who, this week, commented that the VA hasn’t improved enough since Secretary Bob McDonald took over for Eric Shinseki, who stepped down from the agency over poor management of veteran health care facilities across the country.

“I think the VA is trying, but I think the Speaker is right. I don’t think we’ve done enough,” he said. “I do think it’s time to have a broader conversation about whether the VA alone is really the right provider of health benefits to our veterans.”

Delaney said the VA should consider a model where veterans can seek routine treatment at non-VA facilities to reduce the strain on VA medical centers.

“We have the largest health care system in the world and we don’t have to rebuild it. It’s constantly being built and updated by the private sector based on the demands of the private market,” Delaney said. “Why not just let the veterans access that completely, whatever they like — and then you keep the VA as appropriate?”

Under this system, Delaney said VA medical centers could focus on treating conditions specific to military service.

“You can see how the VA in particular has some extraordinarily dedicated professionals who are well-equipped to deal with illnesses and situations that are typically unique to veterans,” he said. “You go to Walter Reed [National Military Medical Center] and you see some of the things they do for our veterans who lost limbs — there’s no place like it in the world. Or with some of the mental health issues that some of our veterans are dealing with across the country, many VA facilities are singular in their ability to deal with that.”

“I mean, if I had it my way, a veteran would get a card once they’re finished serving our country and that medical card would basically allow them to get health care anywhere they need it.”

Veterans and their families interested in attending Delaney’s event on Tuesday should RSVP by calling his office at 301-926-0300. The workshop is being held at 10 a.m. at the Kramer Upcounty Regional Services Center in Germantown, Maryland.

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