More than two decades ago, House Speaker John Boehner said he offered an idea that was controversial at the time: Why not privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs?
The idea was soundly rejected by veterans organizations.
Now, in the midst of a sweeping scandal over reports that veterans had died waiting for treatment, Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., said Friday that the idea still has merit.
“I still like the idea and especially now,” he said, but cautioned that “until we understand what’s happening and until we understand whether it can be fixed or how it can be fixed, all veterans seeking care shouldn’t have to wait.”
Boehner, in an exclusive interview with the Dayton Daily News Friday, said he believes the problems at the VA are “systemic,” and said he is not convinced that having VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resign will fix the problem.
“The reason I threw cold water on the idea is it’d be the easy way out to get rid of the secretary,” he said. “He’d resign, we’d wait for months and months, someone else would be nominated then cleared, then they’re brand new, and I think it just takes people’s eye off getting to the bottom of the problems.”
He spoke days after the House passed a bill that would give Shinseki more freedom to fire managers. Boehner called that bill “a first step in the right direction.”
“I think empowering (Shinseki) to be able to move some of these managers out of there and move others would help him get to the bottom of the problem,” he said.
He said he doesn’t believe that money is the problem, adding that there have been “sizeable increases” in VA funding over the last 15 years, as well as “all kinds of promises that things would be better.”
“It’s clear that even with all the additional funds given to them, things have not gotten better, they’ve gotten worse,” he said, adding “if money were to solve the problem, it would’ve been solved a long time ago.”
Complaints about VA wait times date back to the George W. Bush administration, but Boehner said reports out of Phoenix as well as recent articles in the Dayton Daily News have “started opening people’s eyes to wondering what in the world is going on.” His office, he said, currently has 135 open VA cases.
“It’s been my experience dealing with veterans in my district that they get second class care, and I don’t frankly think that’s right,” he said.
Boehner said the House Veterans Affairs Committee will “has to get to the bottom of what’s happening out there,” and said that they’ll no doubt be investigating the allegations in the weeks to come.
But he stopped short of suggesting further legislative remedies, saying “if you’re a doctor and you’ve got sick patient, the first thing you have to do is understand how sick is the patient is, what is the problem, before you can begin to prescribe a treatment process or a cure. I don’t want to get too far out front with what the cure is until I understand how bad the disease is.”
“I don’t know how bad it is,” he said. “But my sense is it’s worse than what we know so far.”
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