Private sector lacks capacity, expertise to care for veterans

In response to the Review-Journal’s July 24 editorial, “No more money: Don’t give VA $17.6 billion; privatize it”:

Rather than address each misguided point, I want to share a brief exchange from Thursday’s House of Representatives Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing.

As a member of the committee, I have been fortunate to hear directly from the Veteran Service Organizations that work hard in Washington, D.C., to represent the views of veterans. When asked if the VA should be mended, rather than ended, the response from these influential veterans groups could not have been clearer: the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America all said “yes” to mending the VA. The Paralyzed Veterans of America continued, “At the end of the day, the only and best option for our members is the VA. There really isn’t another option.”

Sadly, the simple truth that the VA provides high-quality care has been overshadowed by problems in the system designed to deliver that care. As we move forward with the process of correcting these systemic failures, we cannot ignore the fact that the VA’s quality of care simply cannot be replicated through privatization.

First, the private sector does not have the expertise to provide care for the unique needs of veterans, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, prosthetics, conditions related to toxic exposure in war zones, or traumatic brain injury. The VA was designed to provide care for conditions unique to veterans. Much of this care is provided by veterans who understand the needs of veterans. This was made clear by the CEO of the American Hospital Association, who told the committee that the private sector will need time to understand the unique needs of veterans before it can meet demand.

Second, those in private practice do not share the same singular mission as the VA. In a recent hearing, representatives of major private care providers voiced concerns with reimbursement rates and speed, while repeatedly refusing to share with the committee their expected profit from expanding private care for veterans. The VA has a singular mission, as President Abraham Lincoln said: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”

Finally, in Nevada and across the country, there is a shortage of private-sector doctors. The Silver State, as measured by the number of physicians for every 100,000 residents, is severely lacking in both generalists and specialists, including family practice doctors (46th in the country), pediatricians (46th), orthopedic surgeons (51st), ophthalmologists (48th), psychiatric physicians (50th), OB-GYNs (40th), and registered nurses (50th), according to University of Nevada School of Medicine researchers. We are doing a disservice to veterans by pushing them into an already overburdened private system.

To correct this problem, I introduced the Underserved Veterans Access to Care Act to create more residencies at VA medical facilities in underserved areas, such as Las Vegas, which is part of the agreement between the Chairmen of the House and Senate committees on veterans’ affairs reached over the weekend. These residents will provide critical care to our veterans and are more likely to stay in Southern Nevada following completion of their program. The Association of American Medical Colleges supports the idea of adding new residency slots at the VA, and has encouraged Congress to include my provision in legislation to address the problems at the VA.

I look forward to continuing my work with the new VA secretary to ensure our veterans have access to high-quality health care and receive all the benefits they have earned in a timely fashion. We need to mend it, not end it.

Democrat Dina Titus represents Nevada’s 1st Congressional District in the House of Representatives and serves on the Veterans Affairs Committee.