VA secretary mcdonaldOn Sept 1, 2016, consistent with the Veterans Reform Act of 2014 (Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014), President Obama sent to Congress his formal response to the Commission on Care’s recommendations regarding reform of the Veterans Administration’s health services system. The President maintains that “a sacred covenant exists between Veterans and this nation: servicemen and servicewomen take an oath to protect our country, and in turn, our nation pledges to take care of them when they leave the service. The Commission’s work to evaluate the Veterans Affairs health care system is important in ensuring we keep our promise to our Veterans.”

Obama affirmed his support for “the ongoing transformation of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)” and stated his opposition to 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.”

At the same time, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald released a statement, including the following content, about the Commission’s report.

“VA stands firmly behind the President’s final assessment of the Commission on Care report, and we thank the Commission for their hard work.

“With input from Congress, Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), and government partners, VA has thoroughly reviewed each and every recommendation to determine whether they were feasible and advisable within the scope of the law. The President and VA find 15 of the 18 recommendations in the Commission’s report feasible and advisable, and we have already accomplished or have been working on 12 out of the 18 through our ongoing MyVA transformation.

“Overall, we found 15 of the 18 recommendations feasible and advisable, and are working to implement them. However, VA strongly disagrees with the Commission on its proposed ‘board of directors’ to oversee the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Such a board is neither feasible nor advisable for both constitutional and practical reasons. Most problematically, this proposal would seem to establish VHA as an independent agency, which would frustrate ongoing efforts to improve the Veteran’s experience by integrating Veterans health care and services across VA, making it more difficult for Veterans to receive the quality care where, when, and how they need it.

“At the same time, 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.”

Photo credit. Piece by Robert Booth.


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