Congressman Doug Lamborn serves Colorado’s 5th Congressional District including El Paso, Teller, Fremont, Park, and Teller counties. Recognized as a longtime advocate for veterans, he has introduced legislation in Washington known as the Veteran’s Empowerment Act. Doctor’s Quarterly recently spoke with Congressman Lamborn on this initiative to significantly improve medical care options for veterans.
What’s your philosophy when it comes to improving the VA?
There is a growing conversation about the future of access to veteran’s health care across the nation. As the longest war continues, it is increasingly apparent that the answer for a previous generation of veterans is falling significantly short in supporting the needs of post-9/11 veterans.
I believe it’s past time for an honest, nonpartisan look at what’s working and what isn’t at the VA. It’s time for bold, veteran-focused healthcaresolutions. While new ideas will inevitably come under attack, attacks often based on fear of change, we must think big. Our veterans deserve it. From the darkest days of 2014’s VA scandal uncovering falsified veteran care wait lists – as long as 76 days in my home district in Colorado Springs – came a temporary solution that most veterans and many within VA agree needs significant improvement.
What did you do to solve some of these problems?
I helped craft the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, known as the “Choice Act,” “VACAA,” or “Choice.” While the Choice Act was a step in the right direction, it wasn’t intended to be a permanent solution. I would say the greatest issue I’ve seen with Choice is the cumbersome process veterans endure to gain pre-approval from the VA, which has full authority to dictate if, when, and where they use civilian care. Intentional or not, those procedures mean the bureaucracy still has control, and veterans have few real choices.
In light of some of the complaints about the Choice Act, have you done anything to reform the law?
In November of last year, I introduced the Veteran’s Empowerment Act, which would eliminate the need for the VA to pre-approve a veteran’s choice to use civilian medical providers. But I want to be absolutely clear about something: this legislation leaves the current VA medical system fully-intact as an unchanged option for veterans. The Veteran’s Empowerment Act seeks only to improve the current system. It doesn’t take away any services veterans are currently receiving.
How does the Veteran’s Empowerment Act work?
In practice, this act gives a veteran the freedom – the true choice – to decide whether they want to receive care from VA or civilian facilities. It takes the decision away from the bloated VA bureaucracy and gives it back to the veteran. Despite most VA employees being good, well-intentioned people who want to care for veterans, the bureaucratic system itself impedes their ability to be responsive, flexible, innovative, and effective. I want to ensure that current and future veterans receive timely access to quality care. Ultimately, I believe our veterans deserve the same options available to other Americans, including congressional employees, federal employees, and active-duty military. The Veteran’s Empowerment Act provides this meaningful choice.
Has this approach, allowing veterans or active duty military members greater access to private care, been utilized before?
That’s a great question. Yes, it has. Since 1997, civilian physicians have partnered with Defense Department medical providers nationwide to improve access to care for active-duty military and authorized family members, resulting in available care on military installations and from civilian physicians in the community. This was one of the main driving forces behind the Choice Act. Since 2014, community physicians have partnered with VA through the Choice program to provide quality care for veterans. I continue to hear that private providers are eager to continue, and even expand, this option for the veteran’s community.
What if a veteran likes the coverage and care he or she is currently receiving? Would that veteran be forced to enroll in another program?
No. Some veterans currently receive great care from the VA. That is definitely protected under this legislation. But for veterans who don’t trust the current system to meet their needs, isn’t it simply wrong to force them to use it? We need to provide a better option for these veterans.
There have been some claims from some saying that the Veteran’s Empowerment Act is privatizing the VA. Is that true?
Unequivocally, no. In their attempts to maintain the status quo and prevent much-needed reforms, critics have inaccurately claimed this approach would privatize the VA. It’s important to note that the Washington Post gave this privatization claim three Pinocchio’s… twice.