Why We Must Reform the VA

Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush
May 17, 2015 · 3 min read

When veterans come home and leave active service, we have a duty to provide care for them for the rest of their lives. This is an obligation we hold dear, as President Lincoln made clear in his Second Inaugural: “With the firmness in the right as God sees us to give to see the right,” he said “let us… care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”

Unfortunately, the recent scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs demonstrate that some in Washington do not take this responsibility seriously. Americans are rightly upset.

A new report out last week showed that every year there was about $6 billion in waste, fraud, and abuse in our VA. This has been a systemic problem. Last year, in Phoenix, a whistleblower came forward to show that while the facility publicly reported on-time delivery of care, in actuality, veterans were made to wait on a secret wait list to see doctors.

Unfortunately, the recent scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs demonstrate that some in Washington do not take this responsibility seriously. Americans are rightly upset.

One such veteran was Thomas Breen, who had served in the United States Navy. He was so proud of his service, he would only seek treatment at one of the VA’s hospitals. After spotting blood in his urine in the fall of 2013, Thomas was seen by the Phoenix VA hospital and then released to be seen at a later date. The wait list for an appointment was months long. As his condition worsened, his family called and called again, insisting on an appointment. In December, the VA hospital finally called to schedule an appointment. There was no need. Thomas Breen had passed away a month earlier, waiting for care that never came.

Soon after, the VA found that 120,000 veterans nationwide were either left waiting for care or never received care. This came even after the VA’s budget had been increased significantly for years. Where has the money gone?

This is a failure of the local VA hospital, but it is also an indictment of the way Washington works. Too many Washington bureaucrats have treated our veterans like they are just another line item in a budget, wedged between the Department of the Interior and Department of Commerce.

We can do better.

It starts with accountability. As of February, only 8 employees out of 75 cited for disciplinary action in the wake of the VA scandal have been fired. We can’t expect the culture of the VA to change until employees are held responsible for failure to deliver what the taxpayers expect and veterans deserve.

And it’s time we look at fresh approaches to providing health care to veterans.

More vets should be able to take advantage of a Congressionally authorized “choice” card, designed to give veterans a choice in where they receive care. We can expand their access to neighborhood clinics, instead of making them wait months to see a VA doctor or travel 200 miles to a VA hospital. This would also ease the long queues of veterans waiting to see VA doctors.

The VA bureaucracy has been reluctant to change and slow to implement reforms that passed in rare bipartisan fashion in 2014 that would bring more veterans choice and increased accountability to the process.

We have to approach any reforms to the VA with humility before their sacrifice, respect for their service, and reverence for the obligation we owe them. When a service member concludes their active duty service, they should know that we are ready to take on the responsibility of their care.

    Jeb Bush

    Written by

    Jeb Bush

    43rd Governor of the State of Florida · Jeb2016.com