Obama VAIn a statement issued Sept 1, 2016, President Obama affirmed his support for “the ongoing transformation of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)” and stated his opposition to some recommendations made by the Commission on Care that would place the VHA under the control of an outside panel.

Obama focused on the “Commission’s proposed governance structure for the VA health care system,” which, he claimed, “would undermine the authority of the Secretary and the Under Secretary for Health, weaken the integration of the VA health care system with the other services and programs provided by the VA, and make it harder—not easier—for VA to implement transformative change. Moreover, the Department of Justice has advised that the proposed recommendation would violate the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.”

The Commission on Care, a board of commissioners appointed under the 2014 VA Reform Act, issued its report of June, 2016, with 18 major recommendations, including a proposal for revision of the VHA governing structure that was interpreted by many observers as a prelude to privatization of the VHA or many of its functions.

Instead, the President affirmed the present course of VA transformation under the leadership of VA Sec. Robert McDonald, whose reforms are bundled under the “MyVA” program. Obama continued, “Additionally, in recognition of the role of the MyVA initiative in transforming the VA as military service evolves, I have directed the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to incorporate the principles of the MyVA initiative into VA strategic planning, leadership training, and performance monitoring. In those areas where legislation is required, my Administration will work closely with the Secretary to transmit to the Congress the relevant legislative proposals, which I recommend be enacted without delay.”

Secretary McDonald issued a separate statement, thanking the President and veterans’ organizations for their support and reaffirming the importance of the VA as a dedicated agency undiluted by privatization. He wrote that “it is critical that we preserve and continue to improve the VA health care system and ensure that VA fulfills its mission. Veteran Service Organizations, having decades of experience advocating for generations of our Nation’s Veterans, have made it crystal clear that they believe VA is the best place for Veterans to receive care. Many VSOs fear that the Commission’s vision would compromise VA’s ability to provide specialized care for spinal cord injury, prosthetics, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health needs, which the private sector is not as equipped to provide. We share their concern and therefore do not support any policies or legislation that will lead to privatization, which I am pleased the Commission did not recommend outright. Privatization is not transformational. It’s more along the lines of dereliction of duty.

“VA is well on its way towards realizing the integrated health care network envisioned by the Commission, but we cannot get there alone. Congress is our board of directors. If Veterans are to receive the care and services they deserve, Congress must do its job as our board. Abdicating leadership and constitutional responsibilities by creating more bureaucracy hurts Veterans and slows the progress of our MyVA transformation. Congress must act on key pieces of legislation like our Plan to Consolidate Community Care, our plan to reform the claims appeals process, and the President’s budget request for VA.”

Photo credit. Piece by Robert Booth.


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