As a veteran myself, I consider care for our nation's heroes a top priority. The Department of Veterans' Affairs has been in disarray for too long, leading to unconscionable standards of care, wait times, and mass inefficiency.
To try to fix this system, the House and Senate VA committees have released a conference report full of new provisions. The most troubling of these is a new program that will permit veterans facing a certain wait time to seek care outside of the VA program, at a private facility. Congress has proposed $10 billion to kick start this program, which will not be offset by any savings, but spent under an "emergency" designation.
I think we can all agree, in this state of our nation's fiscal climate, this seems unwise, especially given previous assurances any new spending would be paid for. What's more, the dysfunction and red tape-laden bureaucracy that the media has reported on these last six months will remain intact, and in addition, Congress will call upon taxpayers to layer a new entitlement on top that looks like it could grow unchecked into the distant future.
A quick note on that $10 billion authorization. It is held under an artificial cap that does nothing to actually limit the size, scope or real cost of this new program. Once the money dries up, Congress will face immense pressure to allocate more "emergency" funds to refill it, piling onto the deficit without any reforms to the underlying VA system.
The Congressional Budget Office has predicted that this entitlement provision sideshow will encourage other eligible vets, currently enrolled in other systems, to transition to VA coverage, expanding the pool of participants. This means that once again the system will have to bear the burden of overloads, putting the vets most in need of care at a disadvantage.
A functional, cost-effective VA health care system is crucial not just for the vets of this generation, but to tomorrow's servicemen and women, as well. Any solution that is not sustainable in the long term leaves future veterans in the lurch. Rather than spend blindly to achieve a quick result, Congress must legislate from the premise that all generations of heroes are deserving of our gratitude, and will benefit from effective and responsible governing.
The reality of this massive expansion bill is far from patriotic or compassionate. The VA system is woefully inefficient and routinely challenged by backlogs, disorganization and a misallocation of resources. Rather than attempt to reform its weaknesses and target the federal aid, Congress is seeking to add to the heap of clutter with a costly new program that will expand the population dependent upon it and run up an unimaginable tab.
As former Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen has declared repeatedly, "the single biggest threat to our national security" is the national debt. Those who take up the great cause of defending the liberty and security of our homeland deserve the best from their leaders; this bill is a poor substitute, indeed.