You can’t help but be impressed by Charlotte’s shiny new VA clinic. I came away impressed but also wondering if we really need a completely separate nationwide network of VA hospitals and clinics to deliver care to veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ budget is $182.3 billion this year. Because of the way the data are arrayed on the VA website, it is virtually impossible to determine what portion of that goes toward the maintenance of the nationwide network of hundreds of medical centers and clinics such as the new one in Charlotte vs. providing actual care to veterans. It would be safe to assume that these hundreds of facilities were not only expensive to build and equip but continue to be expensive to staff and maintain. In North Carolina alone there are four VA medical centers, seven outpatient clinics and 16 community-based outpatient clinics.
Reports in the national media consistently confirm the VA struggles to provide acceptable levels of customer service at its hospitals and clinics. Wait times are – for the most part – unsatisfactory and are an embarrassment to the VA as well as an affront to our veterans.
Wouldn’t it be more straightforward to simply give all eligible veterans throughout the country an appropriate identification card that would allow those who live in Charlotte, for example, to walk into any Carolinas HealthCare System or Novant facility and receive the care they need? Local hospitals are more than able to provide quality care for the internal medicine, surgical, cardiac and other basic needs of veterans. Specific war-related injuries (e.g., PTSD) would be served by a small nationwide network of highly specialized VA facilities focused on these tragic injuries.
Along with issuing a card to all eligible veterans authorizing them to use local hospitals, let’s systematically close down and sell the bulk of the hundreds of VA medical centers and clinics throughout the country. This process alone would yield significant one-time revenues which should more than offset the cost of transitioning to a nationwide card system. The sale process could be done on a phased basis over several years.
As a corollary benefit of closing the majority of facilities, staff at VA headquarters who currently managethat network could be pruned significantly. The VA’s focus could then be placed on the small network of specialized directly-war-related hospitals and on the VA’s other diverse responsibilities.
Let’s integrate veterans into the fabric of local health care throughout the country. If we do, I suspect that most veteran-related customer service complaints will virtually disappear. As a veteran I appreciate and strongly support the policies that seek to provide appropriate medical care to the nation’s 23 million veterans. But let’s consider doing so in a smarter manner.
Laurent, of Charlotte, is a Navy Vietnam-war era vet.