Numerous news reports recently have highlighted deaths suffered at Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals. The reports range from separate wait lists to waits of more than 100 days for an appointment to death while waiting for treatment at the VA. In the midst of the outrage, a few questions can be asked: Was this problem foreseeable, where is the money and what’s next?
Look back to predict the future
A 2010 CBO report predicted that the future costs for the VA to treat enrolled veterans would be substantially larger than the amounts appropriated for that purpose. More veterans would seek care through the VA system, mostly due to the rising costs of health care. The total cost of providing health care would increase to between $69 billion and $85 billion in 2020 (based on two different calculations) for an estimated increase between 45 percent and 75 percent since 2010.
Add to this The Veterans’ Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996 which, as the CBO report summarized, “mandated the VA to deliver services to veterans who have service-connected conditions, to veterans unable to pay for necessary medical care, and to specific groups of veterans, such as former prisoners of war. The legislation permitted VA to offer services to all other veterans to the extent that resources and facilities were available…The highest priority is given to veterans who have service-connected disabilities; the lowest priority is given to higher-income veterans who have no compensable service-connected disabilities” (no conditions that are disabling to the degree that the VA provides compensation).
Following the implementation of the 1996 law, the CBO report found that the number of veterans treated by the VA increased to 4.5 million by 2003. By this time, the “VA no longer had the capacity to adequately serve all current enrollees, prompting the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to suspend further enrollment of some higher-income veterans. In 2009, the restrictions on the higher-income veterans were lifted, and some were able to enroll in the VA system. However, this was only for a small portion of their health care needs.”
We see the CBO predicted in 2010 that the costs of health care for veterans would increase due to demand and inflation. The 1996 act required some veterans to not receive the health care owed to them for their service to our country. In 2003, the VA system was overwhelmed. By 2009, there were still restrictions on the health care provided to veterans. The problem existed as early as 2003 and did not improve by 2009. Fast forward to 2014, and the situation worsens.
Show me the money
A 2009 report from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) showed that although a national tally for unreimbursed medical expenses for illegal aliens was not available, “it is likely that those costs are more than $10.5 billion.” Often, these costs are borne by the state and are not reimbursed by the federal government; taxpayers and hospitals must pay the bill in higher taxes or medical costs. At the same time, our veterans are being denied care, prioritized according to income level, placed on an appointments waiting list for as many as 100 days (instead of the mandated 14 days) or pass away needing the care that could have saved their lives. More than $10 billion may not be all of the money needed to fix the VA; however, it would be a good start.
Veterans bore the scars of freedom for us. Why should we allow legislators to use our money to treat illegal aliens better than veterans? Our next steps are to pressure legislators to do the right thing and serve our veterans who have sacrificed to serve us.
Please, contact your senators and representatives and implore them to place veterans before illegal aliens.