About two hours after we spoke, the Senate voted 93-3 to pass a VA reform bill Isakson co-sponsored (a similar version already passed the House). The bill included two “tremendously important things,” he said: greater authority for agency leadership to fire bad employees, and a measure to allow veterans to use private doctors if they live too far from VA facilities or wait times are lengthy.
“It’s become a culture that’s just corrupt,” Isakson said of the VA’s work force. “In the VA, if you screw up, and you know your punishment is to be transferred to a new job with the same pay, there’s not much of a financial incentive to perform better, or a financial disincentive to perform poorly.”
As for access to private doctors, the bill would allow veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to opt instead for a Tricare- or Medicare-approved provider closer to home. That option is also open to any vet who can’t get an appointment within a “reasonable time,” still to be determined by the VA.
I asked if he thought this change would eventually lead to totally privatizing VA health care. He didn’t.
“Some (war-related injuries) the VA does well because of the scale they deal with. They have the ability and the manpower to deal with the ailment, and the private sector doesn’t,” Isakson said, allowing that primary care, for example, may be different.
“In time, it may be that most veterans (health) services are done by private practitioners … and that’ll lessen the burden on the VA to deal with those injuries from war that are highly specialized,” he said. “But it’ll allow the veterans to make that choice with their feet and their minds.”
Beyond the new bill, Isakson praised the FBI’s decision to investigate the Phoenix hospital and said it’ll be up to Congress to keep closer tabs on the agency.
What followed that day in Jesup almost five years ago shows more oversight is certainly needed. The Brunswick office didn’t open for another year. The grand opening for a permanent clinic in Hinesville was held two days ago.