Five years after scandal changed how many Americans view the Veterans Affairs health system, misconceptions still linger.

The scandal — in which some veterans were left to wait weeks, even months, for care, and some facilities attempted to cover up just how far behind they were — was not the result of a bloated and uncaring bureaucracy.

Instead, the VA system buckled under the pressure created by all the veterans of recent wars seeking care for complex injuries and mental health issues at the same time that veterans of older wars had aged into their senior years.

The VA system had not been given the resources or staffing to deal with all the new patients, and could not in many cases meet the high standards the system had set for itself. A few facilities reacted poorly to the pressure and tried to hide their failures.

Hanging over all of this was an ongoing effort to privatize more of the VA’s services. Forces in favor of privatization pushed the narrative of a broken VA health system so that they could rebuild it how they pleased.

However, studies since have shown that wait times for new and established VA patients are if anything shorter than those in the private sector. The VA system also offers same-day urgent care that is accessible for most veterans.

Study after study has found, too, that the quality of care offered at VA facilities meets or exceeds that given in the private sector.

That doesn’t surprise us — we often hear from readers who are impressed with the care and attention they receive at the VA Maine Healthcare System at Togus. In an emblematic letter, Richard Martin of Milo told us in January that his emergency visit to Togus dispelled all the bad rumors he’d been hearing about VA care.

“The doctors and nurses were top notch,” Martin wrote. “They were very professional as well as caring during my seven days there. I also saw the staff with other veterans and they were very well taken care of. I would give the VA in Togus five stars out of five for my treatment and care I received there.”

VA care is also more cost effective than private-sector care. A congressional report in 2016 found giving veterans unfettered access to private care would increase costs by $100 billion a year.

Certainly, a portion of the veteran population needs access to private care through the VA; some just live too far from VA facilities. And through the 2014 Veterans Choice Act and the 2018 Mission Act, lawmakers are making that possible.

But if private care is allowed to suck away resources from the VA, all veterans will suffer. Veterans have unique needs and they need a system that understands them and is built for them, particularly when it comes to specialized care and behavioral and mental health care, all of which address needs specific to veterans.

Too-long wait times still exist for veterans seeking care in some areas and in some specialties. Private care can fill some of that need, but not all it — the VA system should be expanded where needed.

President Donald Trump has proposed more money for veterans health care, both through the VA and private providers. It’s up to Congress now to make sure that veterans can easily access health care where they need it, while maintaining a strong VA health system.


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