Five years ago, the Arizona Republic headline read “Deaths at Phoenix VA hospital may be tied to delayed care.” In the days and weeks to follow, CNN would report that “at least 40 U.S. veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list” created “to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor.”

Amid the subsequent outrage, Congress took swift action, hastily crafting and passing the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014. This law created the Veterans Choice Program, which was intended to allow veterans to choose where they receive their health care and drive down wait times.


In 2016, well after implementation of the new law, CNN followed up. “Report: Deadly delays in care continue at Phoenix VA” was the headline. In a piece on a 2016 Government Accountability Office study, USA Today reported “VA hasn’t fixed wait-time problems, GAO finds.”

Our nation’s veterans have been waiting for better access to health care for too long.

To address the shortcomings of the Veterans Choice Program and expand access to care, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the VA MISSION Act, which required the department to set standards outlining the criteria by which veterans would have the option to access care outside the VA.

This week, those proposed access standards are the topic of a hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Some lawmakers on the panel, including some who supported the VA MISSION Act, have attacked the proposed standards as “arbitrary” and using poll-tested terms like “privatization” to irresponsibly mischaracterize what the law and the VA are aiming to do: ensure veterans have access to the care they need.

The VA MISSION Act and the proposed access standards do not privatize the VA health care system. Instead, they work to better integrate the VA with community health care providers, improve access to care, and expand the health care options available to veterans, all while maintaining the VA’s vital heath care infrastructure for those veterans who choose to receive care within the system.

The VA health care system should remain an option for those veterans who choose it. But, whether a veteran opts to receive care in their local community or at a VA facility, the choice should be theirs, not the VA’s.

Additionally, the proposed access standards are not arbitrary. The drive-time and wait-time standards were developed to align the VA with private-sector counterparts and are similar to those successfully used in the military’s successful TRICARE program – which has both government-run and private-sector components.

Those now criticizing the proposed standards know that giving veterans more choices means the VA’s grip on the reins of veterans’ health care will loosen, as resources begin to follow the veteran rather than prop up the bureaucracy.

Ultimately, the VA MISSION Act should be implemented in a way that puts the veteran, rather than the bureaucracy, first. The goal, after all, is to ensure that veterans get the care they need, when and where they need it.

Dan Caldwell is executive director of Concerned Veterans for America.