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Don’t Allow VA to Sabotage Real Reform

9:12 AM, Jun 24, 2014 • By PETE HEGSETH
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Limit additional spending and make it discretionary. As more veterans access the care they have earned, we recognize that expanded choice will have its costs. But if done properly, bringing an end to the days of de-facto rationing by the VA would be well worth the investment. That said, the Congressional Budget Office’s whopping $50 billion per year estimate appears to be based upon flawed assumptions about VA usage. Additionally, CBO’s score does not account for reduced costs that will come with properly implemented choice, like travel reimbursement savings and reductions in funding for VA hospitals that will see rural veterans utilizing private healthcare options closer to their homes. Fiscal hawks with sticker shock should take CBO’s estimate with a grain – if not a chunk – of salt.

More broadly, the VA is not short on funding. Its budget (now more than $160 billion annually) has grown by more than 68 percent since 2009. Even President Obama, who has had every budget request he made met, concedes that, “before we start spending more money [on the VA], our first job is let’s take care of some basic management issues that I think can be fixed.”

Nonetheless, “more money” has found its way into the Senate bill, including funding for more hospitals and the hiring of more doctors despite the fact that the VA will carry a $450 million healthcare funding surplus in to FY 2015 and currently has over 1,000 unfilled “physician” positions on their books. The VA’s problems are not underfunding nor a lack of doctors, and all other riders to this accountability and choice legislation should be removed from the final bill. Full stop.

Finally, the Senate deal codifies any additional spending as “mandatory,” while the House keeps it under discretionary purview in order to maintain Congress’s proper fiscal oversight. Recognizing that both bills will be revisited in two years, any additional outlays should be considered discretionary. 

With fiscally-responsible and reform-minded members like Rep. Jeff Miller and Sens. Richard Burr, Tom Coburn, and Marco Rubio leading the charge in conference, we’re cautiously optimistic that any sabotage efforts by the VA’s apologist allies can be averted and we can get a tough VA reform bill to President Obama’s desk.  

The committee can do no better than the House-passed legislation, and no worse than the Senate-passed deal—a set of parameters that should be firmly maintained. But if a deal is struck that dilutes accountability, diminishes choice, or constitutes excessive spending, my organization will oppose the deal and urge other veterans’ organizations to do the same. Too much is at stake to play games.

Any effort to reform the VA must prevent the disgraces of the 70s and today from ever being repeated. It’s up to this VA conference committee to provide the strict and clear legislative guidance to the department needed to ensure that the men and women who have served our nation in uniform finally get the timely, quality care they so richly deserve.

Pete Hegseth, the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America and a Fox News contributor, is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.

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