Phase out VA health care system

March 31, 2014 | 5:44 am

The Des Moines Register---

During a recent visit with the Register’s editorial board, U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack talked about his work helping veterans. He said he was “shocked” when he discovered vets traveling long distances for health care were being reimbursed only 11 cents per mile. Loebsack is proud of his work to increase that reimbursement and fund new community-based outpatient clinics for vets in Iowa. The second district Democratic congressman rightly takes seriously this country’s obligation to provide good health care to veterans.

But continuing to pour money into the VA system as it is currently structured doesn’t make sense — for veterans or taxpayers or the rest of the U.S. health care system.

The VA system is a huge network of hospitals and clinics that runs parallel to the existing health infrastructure in this country. There may be a private hospital anyone can access on one street and a VA hospital only for veterans a few blocks away. More likely: Veterans can’t get their care at that private hospital nearby and must travel far away to a separate veterans hospital.

Maintaining this parallel system costs taxpayers billions. It also siphons health professionals from the private sector to become federal workers and serve only one segment of the population. This is unfair to taxpayers who pay for VA hospitals and clinics but can’t use them, even if they’re right next door.

What makes more sense: Giving veterans access to the thousands of existing health facilities in this country — the same hospitals and clinics that serve everyone else.

Vets could go where they want and use government insurance, similar to Medicare for seniors, to pay for care.

Taxpayers wouldn’t have to fund an expensive, separate system of providers and facilities. A few years ago, federal officials began reorganizing vets hospitals at an estimated cost of about $6 billion. Billions more will be spent to ramp up the infrastructure in the VA system to treat soldiers with mental health problems and brain injuries. ...

Loebsack talked about a new clinic for vets in Cedar Rapids and another one planned in Ottumwa. Instead of employing more federal health workers, those professionals could put their skills to use in clinics to serve all Iowans in the area. This is especially needed in rural areas that already face shortages of doctors and nurses.

Yet Washington politicians continue to fund and grow the current veterans system. This country is in the midst of fighting two wars. The result will be thousands of veterans needing care for years to come. Congress shouldn’t reimburse them more to drive to the doctor.

Give them health insurance they can use anywhere, and start phasing out the huge, unnecessarily expensive VA system. Save tax dollars and let vets go to whatever doctor they choose.

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