Congressional Budget Office Reveals True Veteran Healthcare Costs.
War is very expensive. Just ask the hundreds of thousands of Veterans nationwide suffering without care and benefits due to long delays. By one academic estimate, the cost to care for one million Iraq and Afghanistan War Veteran patients may reach or exceed $1 trillion dollars.
The recent scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), where Veterans died waiting for medical care, shows the enormous scope of the agency’s tragic failures to increase the supply of doctors as the demand for care by Veterans grew far in excess of VA’s recent robust budget increases.
After the public outcry, Congress is taking action. The question everyone asks is, “what is the true cost of reforming VA medical care so Veteran’s don’t die waiting to see a doctor?” Reporter Tom Philpott’s story for Stars and Stripes provides the devastating big reveal.
Philpott wrote, the “Senate-passed Veterans Access to Care Act written by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), VA committee chair, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), would expand VA reliance on medical services contracts with non-VA health care providers so any eligible veteran who requests VA care gets it promptly.”
$218 Billion Annual VA Budget?
However, according to a brand new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate of the Sanders-McCain bill, VA would need $54 billion each year in additional spending at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to provide prompt medical treatment for millions of Veterans now delayed or denied care due to chronic underfunding for decades.
That’s a grand total of $218 billion per year!
Wait, There’s More …
Yes, VHA needs additional funding and reform so our Veterans don’t die waiting on medical care. However, CBO’s estimate did not take into account two other urgent, unmet VA expenditures: the claim delay and error crisis at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the hundreds of thousands of potential disability benefit claims filed by Gulf War Veterans who are ill due to toxic exposures.
VBA’s Claim Delay and Error Crisis
The CBO cost estimate did not take into account the fact the VBA remains chronically underfunded, similar to VHA. More than 276,000 Veterans have an appeal waiting an average of four years. VBA doesn’t have the trained staff to process claims in a timely and accurate manner.
If Congress is interested in true reform for the entire agency, then the CBO should immediately determine how much more VBA needs. Why? Because at least 19,500 Veterans died in Fiscal Year 2012 waiting on a VBA claim decision. The waits are too long – averaging four to five years. Veterans should not die waiting for care or benefits.
Gulf War Toxic Wounds
Another overlooked area impacting both VHA and VBA are the 250,000 sick Gulf War Veterans poisoned by a toxic stew in Southwest Asia in 1991. According to a devastating Army Times story published on April 22, 2014, the top VBA leader attempted to unfairly influence the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to block new presumptive disabilities for Gulf War Veterans ill due to hazardous exposures while deployed to Southwest Asia since 1990.
Before that, on December 11, 2013, VBA Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey testified before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee against any new presumptive disability conditions.
At about 90 minutes into the hearing, Hickey said, “I will get to [the President’s goal to eliminate the backlog in] 2015 and [process claims within] 125 days except for … something like we experienced in Agent Orange — 260,000 claims in our inventory overnight in October 2010. That will kill us!”
Unlike the current VA appointment manipulation scandal, VA doesn’t report how many Gulf War Veterans may have died due a lack of medical treatment.
The bottom line: VBA desperately needs more trained staff to process current inventory, plus a lot more to handle the Gulf War disability claims the agency is currently blocking. If Congress and VA truly seek effective reform to honor our social contract with our Veterans, then healthcare, claims, and toxic wounds must all be addressed.