Neither Congress nor the Obama administration are doing enough to hold the Department of Veterans Affairs accountable, GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Monday.
Bush discussed his future plans for the VA at a town hall meeting in Columbia, S.C., and visited a Charleston medical facility, saying manipulated records and delayed wait times still hang over the department and desperately need addressing. His ambitious policy stance puts him out in the forefront of GOP candidates in an attempt to win support from veterans.
“We need a president committed to running a competent government,” Bush stated, according to The Associated Press.
The plan? Bush wants more privatization. All nine million veterans should have access to doctors and providers outside of the VA medical system if they so choose, a move which will likely not win over many VA officials, who have continually opposed privatization at every turn.
“First, we trusted veterans to defend our country; we can trust them to choose their doctor,” Bush wrote Monday in an op-ed for National Review. “They should have the right to decide to use the VA hospital system or a neighborhood doctor.”
The proposal is basically a large-scale expansion of the VA Choice Program, which Congress launched as a pilot experiment.
The $10 billion fund allows veterans to access outside care if they live more than 40 miles away from the nearest facility or have waited more than 30 days for an appointment. In late July, Congress permitted the VA to raid the choice fund for $3.3 billion in order to prevent the department from sailing over a fiscal cliff only recently revealed. (RELATED: Congress Permits VA To Raid $3.3 Billion From Choice Card Program)
While VA officials have argued that only 30,000 veterans make use of the program, Jeb argued that the department has not encouraged the program at all. Many don’t even know it exists.
Bush added that he intends to modify personnel rules, so that problematic employees can be quickly and efficiently fired, though he was quick to note that he isn’t “anti-government-worker.”
The funds for private care and modernization will come from paring down the number of administrators, cutting out billions in waste and more competitive bidding in contracts.
“The VA must get its house in order and send savings into improving veteran choice and veteran care,” Bush stated in his VA policy outline.
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