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A Well-Funded VA Could Be America's Best Healthcare Model

by Melissa Garcia, Women for Justice Contributing Editor, Pacific Region

"The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of any agency of the U.S. government or of Women for Justice."

Opponents of universal healthcare like to use the VA as an example of the failings of socialized medicine. Common arguments presented are that the bureaucracy is bloated and that wait times are so lengthy, it limits the number of patients who are actually seen. Another argument is that this all makes it difficult to access services. I don't dispute any of this.

However, if the VA

  • received more funding,
  • hired more employees (it has over 40,000 vacancies, forcing veterans into costly private care elsewhere),
  • cut the red tape,
  • and streamlined its processes,

it could very well become the best healthcare institution in the United States.

As a social work intern at the VA, I cannot tell you how often I have been left in awe of the services veterans are able to receive.

For veterans who are non-service connected, the amount of services they can access are more limited, to be sure. But they can still benefit from many of the free to low-cost programs such as

  • Adult Day Health Care contract program,
  • mental health programs,
  • and various clinic programs (too many to name).

For example, regardless of whether or not you are service-connected, the VA will pay for a veteran's adult day health care expenditures through a VA contract.

And, if a veteran is at least 70% service-connected, they can receive a VA contract that will cover the expenses of skilled nursing care at a nursing home or skilled nursing facility. Long-term care at skilled nursing homes easily runs around $8,000-$9,000 a month. And unless you buy long-term care insurance (which is completely separate from regular health insurance and something many people can't afford), most people's medical insurance will not cover long-term care expenses of any kind. But VA insurance will cover those expenses, and more.

Tricare, an example of government funded healthcare which is considered to be the gold standard of health insurance, is exclusive to military personnel and retired veterans.

It's nothing less than what our veterans deserve, but it's also nothing less than what the rest of America deserves.​

For all its flaws, the VA has excellent programs that make healthcare for many of its patients affordable. I can't speak for all VA facilities, but the staff at the VA medical center I work at are top notch. They are truly passionate about what they do and go the extra mile for the veterans they serve.

Doctors, nurses, and other medical providers at the VA make much less than their colleagues at private hospitals, yet I've never seen such dedication and professional bedside manner. Meanwhile, I've witnessed some of the worst bedside manner at top-tier hospitals, such as Kaiser (not at all suggesting Kaiser is bad, but private healthcare doesn't always mean better healthcare).

As a patient with excellent insurance through my parents who work with the county, it's true that I can schedule an appointment to see my doctor within days, whereas it might take months for a patient at the VA. But, I will say that once services are accessed, many of the veterans leave smiling and are so grateful for the quality of care they receive.

I've seen VA doctors who have spent over an hour with their patients, whereas I've hardly been able to spend more than fifteen minutes with my doctor. Yes, I can see my doctor within days, but what good is it if there's this push to get patients in and out as quickly as possible?

And, for the veterans who don't want to wait more than 30 days to see a doctor at the VA, the VA can enroll veterans in its Veterans Choice program. This program allows eligible veterans to receive healthcare within their community, which will still be covered by their VA insurance.

And as a patient, I have never been assigned my own social worker! The VA operates in the context of patient-aligned care teams which equip a doctor, a nurse, a social worker, and other medical providers to meet a veteran's needs. If the veteran has any psychosocial problems, is in need of resources, or non-medical care, they have access to their own social worker. It's a very unique, holistic approach that I don't think I've seen at other healthcare institutions.

Tldr:

  • the VA isn't perfect and could use a lot of improvement to make it a better healthcare institution for our veterans.
  • But if it received the amount of dollars that many private healthcare institutions have and diminished barriers to accessing services, America would see firsthand how much better government funded healthcare is compared to the multi-payer system we have now.

As it stands, U.S. healthcare is dominated by private insurance entities seeking to profit as much as possible from consumers. A Medicare-for-all, single-payer system would mean every American, regardless of their wealth, would be able to receive healthcare.

A single-payer healthcare would be significantly better than our current system. If you can't afford healthcare, then accessibility doesn't matter.

Universal healthcare is the future of this country.

Don't let anyone try to use the VA as an example of why we shouldn't implement it, when the VA has a lot of merits and could do much better if Congress decided to fund it as much as it funds war.​

Kimberley Ellis, Melissa Garcia and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard,

California State Democratic Convention, February 2018

About Melissa Garcia:

'I'm an aspiring social worker trying to earn her MSW, all while serving my community as an elected assembly district delegate. My undergraduate degree is in political science, and I've been involved in political activism since I was a teenager. I am an ardent Bernie supporter and identify as a progressive. I'm here to advocate and empower!'

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Header image credit: VeteransNewsNow.com

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