July 24, 2014, Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans), Acting Associate Executive Director of Government Relations Carl Blake testified at the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing—“Restoring Trust: The View of the Acting Secretary and the Veterans Community.”
In his oral testimony before the Committee, Blake stated the following:
“It is truly disappointing to hear the bad things that have been reported about the VA health care system over the last several months. Yet almost nothing that has been disclosed is surprising. Paralyzed Veterans' members—veterans with spinal cord injury or dysfunction—are the highest percentage users of VA health care in the veterans population. I can promise you that our members have experienced the delays and appointment scheduling gimmicks that have been disclosed. However, Paralyzed Veterans has managed to work with the VA to make the spinal cord injury system of care a crown jewel through our annual site visits and our vigilance to ensure proper staffing and resources are devoted to that system. The sad reality is that veterans who try to access the larger VA system do not have the same luxury.
The fact is that we are all complicit in these problems. Veterans service organizations should have provoked greater examination of our concerns by forcing Congress and senior VA leadership to stare into the face of the problem as we saw it. Meanwhile, the Administration should have been truly honest about the resources and staffing it needed to meet actual demand on the health care system, not manipulating demand and statistics to make things look better than they obviously were. Finally, Congress should have actually listened to what we the advocates have been saying for years about these problems. Instead, politics has for too long trumped sound policy when it comes to meeting the health care and benefits needs of veterans.
I will not dispute the argument that the VA health care system has been given large sums of money and that the VA did a poor job of managing and spending those resources, but that does not automatically mean that additional resources are not needed now…we believe they absolutely are needed, whether to address the recommendations that the VA has presented or to put into place the provisions of the bills being considered in conference.”
Blake also stressed that privatizing VA health care is not a good long-term solution, and why VA health care is still the best system of care for veterans.
“Sending veterans out into the private marketplace may alleviate the serious pressures on access right now, but that is not the answer to the long-term problem. Even the representative from the American Hospital Association admitted that they would need time to understand the nature of the veteran patient population before taking on this new demand.”
Blake concluded his testimony by emphasizing the potential long-term negative impact and consequences of contracting health care outside of VA:
“To be clear, Paralyzed Veterans finds it wholly unacceptable that tens of thousands of veterans have waited for far too long to be seen for an appointment, and in many cases were never seen. Not a single veteran should have to wait for care when it is needed. But we can promise that there will be a long-term negative impact on the VA system if broad-based contract care becomes a central tenet of the delivery of health care to veterans in the future. Such a decision will impact the veterans who rely on VA the most—veterans with catastrophic disabilities like spinal cord injury, amputation, and polytrauma/TBI—because there are not viable alternatives in the private sector. If Congress is willing to accept the consequences of the decision to purchase more care in the private sector, then by all means proceed, but know that we will hold you responsible for the outcomes of this decision.”
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