“To care for him who shall have borne the battle and his widow and orphan”.  This Abraham Lincoln quote on a plaque in front of the Veterans Administration building is a succinct mission for the VA.  Our veterans have earned our best efforts toward this end.  

Congress recently acted in a rare bi-partisan fashion to ease the scandalous backlog. Nine million “Veterans Choice” cards allow access to care outside the VA for veterans living at least 40 miles from a VA facility or on very long wait lists.  I applaud the efforts of the new VA Secretary Robert McDonald to rally his organization and give straight answers regarding the on-going challenges. 

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Unfortunately, these efforts are still falling short.   “It is important to know that the Choice Card does not provide guaranteed health-care coverage,” explains McDonald in a letter to the first card recipients. “In fact, before your Choice Card for this benefit can be used, your eligibility must be verified and you must receive advance authorization from VA.” 

So the fix does not free recipients from bureaucratic entanglements after all. 

Fortunately, there is another solution, proven to give people convenient access to health care and control cost in the process.  That solution is a health savings account (HSA).  The good news is that we could solve this problem using existing HSA accounts and card technology in use in all 50 states today. 

Nearly 20 million Americans are covered by HSA-qualified plans and HSA accounts are offered today by thousands of banks, credit unions and other trustees.  These accounts allow people to save tax-free for eligible medical expenses by pairing an account with a qualified high-deductible health plan.   

The money in an HSA is often deposited by an employer or through a payroll deduction, but it is owned by the accountholder immediately and can be saved, invested, or spent on qualified medical expenses tax-free for the life of the accountholder, and for his or her spouse and current tax dependents.  

The VA could create a simple plan structure with a cash contribution into an HSA account to cover all or part of an HSA-qualified high deductible.  Veterans would then be free to access qualified health care with the HSA card anywhere they choose, without bureaucratic oversight.  Any doctor or clinic accepts cash. 

The VA would also discover that people consume care more prudently when you give more control over how the money is spent or saved.  Numerous studies show people in HSA programs are more compliant with free preventive care and engage more deeply with their care. 

This concept could be extended to all VA recipients as an option.  This would create choices and improve satisfaction for the veteran, and further alleviate pressure on VA hospitals and clinics and otherwise reduce costs for the VA.  I receive many questions at my AskMrHSA.com education site from veterans wondering why they are not able to freely access this increasingly popular health plan option. 

Thousands of current HSA trustees are ready to help immediately.  The accounts earn interest and are set up with debit cards for easy access.  The best HSA accounts offer educational support, bill pay, mobile apps, and investment options to grow the money not spent immediately to save for future health care costs. 

No further legislation would be needed to fix this problem.  This solution is available right now with the proper VA plan design.  However, we could also help current veterans who purchase HSAs on their own by removing the restriction on contributing to an HSA account for three months every time they receive care at a VA facility or if they are covered by Tri-Care.  

Rarely does such a simple solution arise to address an intractable problem.  The VA should take advantage of HSA accounts to give our veterans access to the care they need.   Our veterans have “borne the battle” and have earned our best efforts to fulfill this mission. 

Berkley is a leader in the HSA industry, author of the “HSA Owner’s Manual,” and the man behind www.askMrHSA.com.