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The VA shouldn't have its facilities closed during the COVID-19 crisis

Updated: Jan 12, 2021


The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed America’s worst-kept secret. Our nation has failed to provide its citizens with an adequate healthcare system that is flexible enough to regularly care for us and respond swiftly and equitably in times of crisis. The cascading consequences of our long deference to for-profit, market-competition-based care puts American lives at risk and will decimate our broader health care system.

To respond to the crisis now, the federal government needs to step in and expand healthcare access at VA facilities to all veterans, their families, and VA employees. Congress, the media, and the public also need to reconsider the idea that market-driven systems can deliver healthcare effectively and efficiently.

The private health care sector operates like any for-profit institution. It minimizes risks, maximizes profits, and serves its shareholders’ interests first. That private sector philosophy, however, has left vast health care deserts across America. The industry has sold this scarcity as ‘greater choice’ for Americans. ‘Choice’ was always a shallow advertising line, but now it’s shown its real face: a deadly lie.

Meanwhile, private hospitals want trillions of dollars in bailout money and quicker payments from insurers (following the government’s lead) to tackle a problem they were not designed to handle. They likely will not work to rebuild themselves into a better system after the crisis passes, especially if the government promises to bail them out again.

It’s a threat to our health, liberties and collective security. The VA is perfectly suited to address these failures now while also ensuring these systematic breakdowns don’t happen again.

First, the Trump administration and Congress should allocate infrastructure funds to expand the Veterans Health Administration’s footprint across the country. The VHA is already the largest and only integrated health care system in America with more than 1,200 facilities. Standing up new hospitals in underserved rural communities will help relieve the COVID-19 pressure on non-VA facilities in metro areas, and be a smart long-term investment.

On that note, Congress must disband the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission. We don’t need private hospital executives to make decisions about where VA facilities should be closed. Imagine if they’d already met, and we had fewer VA hospitals and health care providers available during this current crisis.

Next, we need to address how to better allocate emergency supplies across the United States. VA facilities should serve as hubs that stockpile and distribute these resources when they’re needed. It will ensure that local communities have the basics they need in times of emergency. It frees private providers from having to acquire and maintain routine but costly products that hurt their bottom line.

After this crisis passes, there is a good chance some private insurance and healthcare providers will get out of the primary care business entirely. They’ve seen how expensive it is. They will also not want to take the risk of the blame for failures that result from rationing care, lack of supplies, or overworked employees. The government can absorb that risk and increase our national healthcare capacity.

Finally, we need more health care workers – fast. The Department of Veterans Affairs already has a network of training programs and partnerships with more than 1,800 educational institutions. More than 70% of U.S doctors received some training at a VHA. By expanding this program, we can fast-track new healthcare workers into an overburdened system.

The COVID-19 crisis has taught us that leaving some individuals without healthcare endangers not just their health but all of ours. By combining a national primary care program with expanded training opportunities, a stable emergency supply source, and a bigger facility footprint, the Veterans Health Administration can help lead us out of this crisis and into a better-prepared national health care system.

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