A massive omnibus spending bill passed by the House includes more than $1 trillion in government funds, including a $7 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Everything from border security to fighting the opioid crisis made it into this bill, but what’s missing is reform of the troubled VA.
Before the omnibus bill’s release, many expected to see VA reform provisions included in its more than 2,200 pages. Those bills would have overhauled the Veterans Choice Program, expanded caregiver benefits and initiated a VA infrastructure review.
Once again, members of Congress, specifically the House Democratic leadership, are holding up changes to the VA’s status quo at the expensive of veterans.
Here’s a breakdown of the problem with this omnibus bill:
- The Veterans Choice Program has needed an overhaul almost since its inception. The program was designed to fill an immediate need for outside care following the wait-list scandal in Phoenix in 2014. It was meant as a stopgap, not a permanent solution. Congress needs to pass an overhaul of the program and its arbitrary criteria to allow veterans more access to care in their communities, when and where they need it.
- The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has been talking about an asset review for months, and for good reason. Last year the Government Accountability Office found 168 VA buildings that need to close. The VA possesses millions of square-footage that should be reviewed, shifted around and, in some cases, closed. Realigning what the VA has and shifting focus where the assets are needed gives veterans more access to better care, not less. But mention the words “infrastructure review” and politicians will refuse to get involved, despite the review being good and necessary.
- $7 billion in increased funding is typical of Congress. Time after time, Congress considers problems at the VA to be funding problems, so they throw more money at the department in hopes that it will get better. Obviously, that isn’t working. The VA’s health care budget has increased from 31.5 billion to 67.5 over the last 10 years, yet extended wait times still exist, quality of care is still low for many patients and the VA’s culture of corruption and irresponsibility persists. Spending more money without implementing reforms is a foolish waste of resources.
This omnibus bill doesn’t address the real problems at the VA. Members of both parties are on board with allowing veterans more access to care from private providers. They see the need for an asset review at VA facilities. But a few members of the minority leadership are trying to win political points by opposing these common-sense reform efforts. They’re more interested in political victory than taking care of veterans.