Free Market Health Care For Veterans Is Long Overdue

June 5, 2023

The federal government is notoriously bad at keeping its promises. The Department of Veterans Affairs is no exception to this rule, especially when it comes to the provision of health care. Over the years, the VA has buried itself in endless layers of red tape, making it extremely difficult for veterans to access even the most basic services.  

In 2022, veterans waited an average of 29 days at VA facilities for a primary care appointment. According to a 2015 report, 307,000 veterans may have died waiting for a health care appointment. Between 2010 and 2015, VA staffers wrongfully marked unprocessed applications and may have erased 10,000 or more records. This is egregious. 

Mental health care is especially difficult to access at the VA, which has led to dire consequences for veterans and their families. The true number of veteran suicides every day is unfortunately unclear: while the VA claims there are 16.8 veteran suicides per day (a rate 57.3 percent higher than that of the non-veteran population), a new study found that we lose 24 veterans to suicide per day. Whether that number is 17, or 24, this reality is heartbreaking. 

Congress has tried to help streamline the process, but those efforts have fallen short of eliminating the long wait times, frustration, and confusion that plague veterans’ interactions with the VA. Even after the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act passed under the Trump administration, the VA failed to administer parts of the law. The VA’s incompetence is glaring and unacceptable. 

The Veterans Community Care Program, which Congress established through the VA MISSION Act of 2018, currently allows veterans to seek care in their communities when wait times at VA facilities exceed certain benchmarks. This program has helped alleviate some of the bureaucratic burden and is popular among veterans, but we still have a lot of work to do. Investigations by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) have identified multiple challenges VA faces related to its community care programs and revealed various outdated and negligent practices at VA institutions. Under the Biden administration, some VA institutions have even been caught discouraging veterans from going to non-VA providers for health care. Given the widespread malpractice inside the VA, it is clear the agency remains its own bureaucratic hurdle. More reforms need to be made.  

Clearly, the bureaucracy is the problem. That’s why I recently reintroduced the Veterans Health Care Freedom Act, which would boost veterans’ access to health care in the free market. Under my proposed system, the VA would institute a pilot program that emphasizes transparency and requires open access to information regarding eligibility, cost sharing, treatment, and providers so that veterans can make informed decisions. It also removes the VA from the community care referral process, allowing veterans to choose when and where they get health care without the extensive wait times associated with VA institutions. After three years, that pilot program would become permanent.  

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our veterans. They have made countless sacrifices so that we may enjoy freedom and peace here at home. Many of them have gone to war or been deployed to dangerous theaters and return seriously injured, both physically and mentally. It is essential that we give them the best and most timely access to health care possible. As a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, it is my duty to ensure that veterans receive the treatment they deserve.

Tennessee is home to over 400,000 veterans. Those brave men and women deserve access to quality care without the bureaucratic red tape of the VA. I am hopeful my congressional colleagues join me to get my legislation across the finish line and finally provide veterans with the timely access to the care and services they deserve.