Wayne's Words: Privatization not the answer for VA

Wayne Horne | 4/4/2018, 5:07 p.m.
One of the best ways to express patriotism in the U.S.A. is to show how much veterans are appreciated.

One of the best ways to express patriotism in the U.S.A. is to show how much veterans are appreciated. The most visible expression of that appreciation is the U.S. government’s Department of Veterans Affairs. The department administers benefits of all types that apply to former uniformed military personnel. The major focus of the U.S. DVA is the Veterans Health Administration.

VHA is the largest integrated health care system in the United States, providing care at 1240 health care facilities, including 170 VA Medical Centers and 1061 outpatient sites of care of varying complexity (VHA outpatient clinics). Approximately nine million veterans use the VA health system. Joliet has a veteran outpatient clinic located in the former emergency room facilities of the now demolished Silver Cross Hospital. It is a modern state of the art facility that offers veterans the option of receiving many services locally without traveling to the regional veterans’ hospital located in Hines, Illinois, near Chicago.

Some veterans have another option for receiving health care paid for by the VHA. The option is called Veterans Choice Program. There are two main reasons a veteran may opt to use the Choice program. One reason is distance and the other reason is wait time to see a VA provider. The program has been available to veterans living in rural areas for many years. The Choice Program has become a controversial topic since the firing last week of now former Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.

Many in Congress and the White House want to expand the Choice Program, which is seen by many veterans and most veteran organizations as a way to privatize the VHA. Former Secretary Shulkin believes he was fired in part because he opposes privatizing the VHA.

As is usually the case in the wide world of government and politics, the people most affected by decisions made at the highest levels, veterans in this instance, are seldom consulted regarding their opinions or experiences.

I am in that category of people that is used by all sorts of decision-makers as an example of how things should work. Not so much for the decision-makers but for all the rest of us. I am a baby-boomer, a senior citizen, and a veteran. Due to age, I’m covered by Medicare but I choose to receive the majority of my health care from the Veterans Health Administration. Here’s my story:

I have been in the VHA system for more than 25 years. Every year I have a routine physical exam. About five years ago, I started to experience pain in my knees that was diagnosed as osteoarthritis. One of the results of the diagnosis was a recommendation for knee replacement. It was my choice to have the procedure done at the Hines VA hospital. After all, I figured, who had more experience fixing limbs than a veteran’s hospital. They did an excellent job and I was mobile and pain-free within a few months.

Last fall I decided to have my other knee replaced before I got too old to enjoy the relief. I decided to use the Veterans Choice Program because the wait time was almost six months out. That timeline made me eligible to use private sector health providers for the surgery, hospitalization and physical therapy utilizing my VA benefits. I am happy to report all went well with the providers who provided the aforementioned care. I have no issues with the care received.