Drafters of the military budget have put military families squarely in the crosshairs. Now, they may do the same to veterans.
A cornerstone of the proposal to slim the military budget is the notion that military families should be paying more out of pocket expenses – everywhere. Housing costs will rise, long-time, all-inclusive fees such as monthly electric and water bills are now paid separately by military families. Commissary benefits are on the chopping block as is free medical care for military families who stay within the Tricare system.
This week an independent auditor told members of Congress that the Department of Veterans Affairs should scale back costs as well, by treating veterans only for specialized care, and sending everyone else to civilian providers.
The Stars and Stripes reports that the agency has commissioned 137 individual studies over the years to find ways to fix the agency. The latest report cost $68 million and outlined the changes that the VA should make in 4,000 pages.
None of this is a surprise. The Stars and Stripes also reports that on average, of the 5.8 million veterans who are VA patients, those individuals receive less than 50 percent of their care from the VA.
Our family has seen this trend among our veteran friends.
My husband cannot get an appointment. His friends cannot get appointments. They are sent to nearby civilian doctors and hospitals instead. For my husband’s most recent spinal surgery, there was not a VA facility within 500 miles that had the capability to do it. He was sent to a civilian instead.
Is sending veterans to civilian providers a good idea? As the spouse of an injured soldier, I say yes. Since he has been allowed to go to a civilian his care has been better and delivered faster.
However, I worry about the red tape that will come with this change. We have received bills from these civilian providers. Bills that are supposed to be paid by the VA. The VA has dragged their feet on handling the paperwork, even though we have repeatedly called and begged them to make arrangements with the hospital.
The bills have been reported to our credit bureaus. So now, the VA has created a credit problem for the veteran they were supposed to help.
What happens when doctors and hospitals begin to refuse to take VA patients because of the inability of the VA to process paperwork and payments? Tricare families already face this issue. We have been told more than once by a civilian doctor that they refuse Tricare because they simply never see the payment.
At that point, veterans will be left without care on the outside, or inside the VA. What do they do then?
The overhauling of the VA system is a process veterans and their spouses need to watch carefully. As leaders there try to walk a fine line between providing the best care and balancing an out of control budget, veterans may be the ones to suffer.