Opinion

Our Veterans Deserve Better: Competition and Choice Are Key to Needed Reforms

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Posted: Oct 06, 2021 12:01 AM
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Our Veterans Deserve Better: Competition and Choice Are Key to Needed Reforms

Source: AP Photo/Mel Evans

Americans love their veterans who have so bravely and consistently defended our nation from threats around the globe. Sadly, taking care of our veterans has been a longstanding challenge. I do not believe it is because of a lack of appreciation among the American public for the sacrifices of our veterans. Sadly, it would seem that policy makers have too often pursued other priorities and not paid proper attention to underfunded healthcare services and the unnecessarily complex benefits programs which have delayed necessary relief to those who have served and sacrificed. 

The Veterans Administration is one of the nation’s largest with over 412,000 employees and contractors, 6,000 buildings, including 1,600 health care facilities, 144 medical centers, and more than 1,200 outpatient sites. The problem isn’t that these resources exist, but that accessing them is insanely difficult and complex. 

Congress has tried to provide additional funding to the Veterans Administration and this could well help reduce the shortages that exist. With the backlog of disability claims and the need for medical attention at an all time high, however, there is more needed than just additional funding. There are important reforms that must be put into place. America enjoys a wonderful standard of living because competition and choice provide us with options from which we can choose and find the solution that best meets our needs. So any attempts to make the VA a more responsive agency, must incorporate choice and competition. 

There are many good intentioned volunteers and other organization whose goal is to ensure that our veterans have help in navigating the complex and often confusing system. For example, there are Veteran Service Organizations that typically use volunteers to provide a wide array of services — everything from transportation for veterans to their medical appointments to help obtaining home mortgages. 

There are legal representation and accredited actors who are often lawyers who are recognized by the VA as “accredited agents.” They typically work on a fee-for-service model. But they only get involved when a meritorious claim has been made, but is denied or delayed and an appeal is needed. They must undergo a background check to serve in this capacity, and are paid by the VA, not the individual veterans so their incentive system is centered around extending the amount of time spent on each claim to get as much as they can from the VA.

There are also private consulting agents who are private organizations that work on a contingency fee basis — which means they only get paid if they are able to increase benefits or solve the benefit problem on behalf of the veteran. Not surprisingly, these agents have a lot of experience and can help veterans get the help they need efficiently and relatively quickly. 

Of course, veterans can also simply go through the process themselves if they prefer. But given the complexity of the system and the time and knowledge that it can require, they are often frustrated in their attempts to get the medical help that they need. 

Following a failed attempt in the last Congress by Senator Daines to impose criminal penalties on those that work to help veterans apply for and file appeals for military benefits, the Biden administration has attempted to revive this harmful measure in their latest VA budget request. In it they propose the creation of “a single, national standard to serve as a general deterrent against bad actors and would allow for more meaningful enforcement against unaccredited individuals that are currently not subject to any Federal punishment for violations of VA law.” 

These reforms that while well intentioned, could have some rather devastating unintended consequences. The goal has to be to make sure our veterans get the help that they need and that we promised them. Our veterans need more options, not fewer. And any politician that puts their support behind this proposal should consider the devastating impact it will have on the brave men and women who served. 

Rather than reducing options, providing veterans with a privatized option with choice and competition would make a lot more sense. To the extent that choice and competition has been increased in the past, our veterans have seen their healthcare outcomes improve. The bottom line is our veterans deserve a system that is accessible, easy to navigate, and provides them help to obtain the best outcomes. This is the least we can do and sadly, the latest proposal is a big step in the wrong direction. The intentions may be good, but the outcomes won’t be. And as they say, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” So let’s focus on getting good results and not pretend that our intentions are the real test of wise reforms.

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