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Morning Muster: 2/26/2015 VSOs against voucher system, fix Choice Card system, awards for fixing appeals

VA voucher system proposed; Congress pushes VA to fix Choice Card system; VA presents Lincoln awards to seven state programs; Baldwin will review office’s handling of Tomah report

Expect immediate, negative response from the veterans’ service organizations to the Concerned Veterans for America report about VA healthcare that came out this morning.

In fact, The American Legion came out against the Veterans Choice Card system as a long-term fix for the system in a story Military.com piece today by Bryant Jordan. Concerned Vets played a big role in getting that passed as a way to segue into privatized care for veterans overall.

“The American Legion applauded emergency legislation to allow veteran patients to use non-VA providers if they were waiting a month or longer to see a doctor or if they lived far from VA facilities,” Legion National Commander Michael Helm said, Jordan reported. “But let me be clear …  We oppose privatization or vouchering out of VA care as a long-term solution.”

VFW and Disabled American Veterans have also come out against privatization or a voucher system.

The Koch-brother funded organization says the new report comes from a bipartisan committee, but a close look belies that assessment with two Democrats—Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii; and former Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Georgia—swimming in a sea of heavy-hitter Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Arizona; and Avik Roy, a former health adviser for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, among several others. The group first made waves when its CEO, Pete Hegseth, used VA’s healthcare system as a way to show the Affordable Care Act wouldn’t work, saying it would be yet another government bureaucracy. So, they want to restructure VA as “an independent, government-chartered non-profit corporation,” while allowing veterans to choose to seek private care. This, they say, would force the government to “compete” for health-care money.

The Arizona Republic’s Dennis Wagner gives a quick rundown of the new proposal, and notes that no politician has signed on as a sponsor for legislation to make the changes.

Roy also penned a column in Forbes today claiming the plan gives vets “a way out of socialized medicine.”

While we agree that VA needs to do a much better job of addressing patient wait times, fixing the claims and appeals backlogs, and ensuring they have the staff available to handle mental health concerns, we see some problems with essentially privatizing VA healthcare. First, VA doctors often know how best to recognize and treat issues that are specific to veterans, such as health issues from Agent Orange exposure or traumatic brain injury. Research has also shown that the majority of civilian mental health workers are not equipped to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder—they’ve not had the training on the best treatments, and they haven’t prepared to deal themselves with the stories veterans have to tell.

Because VA works with veterans, it also has the capacity for rigorous vet-centered research into issues such as increasing asthma rates in recently deployed veterans or muscle fatigue in Gulf War veterans—and we would like to see more focus in addressing those possibilities, rather than sending veterans out randomly to the private sector with no way to track them as a group.

Finally, veterans say—over and over again—that they like the care they receive at VA. They like being recognized as veterans. They like talking with doctors who understand their history and background. They like being in a place with other veterans who understand what they’re going through. It feels safe. We would like to see that safe place improved—to build on what we have.

The Concerned Vets plan would ultimately move all new veterans into a voucher system with the intention of “integrating” them into the overall health care system.

In the meantime, Congress is pushing VA to fix the new Choice Card system. It seems that veterans are not flocking to the program as was initially expected, but also that VA has set up some roadblocks to gaining access, reports The Hill’s Martin Matishak.

VA awarded seven state Veterans Affairs departments for their ability to decrease backlogs, increasing access and improving care during the annual National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs conference this week.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, said she will review how her office handled a negative inspector general report of the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center, reports USA TODAY’s Donovan Slack.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. The firm’s partners are former VA attorneys who are very familiar with the VA system. Bergmann & Moore handles all kinds of cases, but has a concentration in claims involving PTSD, military sexual trauma, Gulf War illness and complex medical issues, such as brain cancer or degenerative issues, veterans exposed to Agent Orange often face. For more information, to submit news or to sign up for an email version of this blog, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com.

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