COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – President Barack Obama is opposing suggestions the government privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve health care veterans receive.
In an interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette, the president said his administration has made progress modernizing the VA and providing veterans with more timely health care following criticism over wait times. Privatizing the agency would delay that progress, he said.
The administration came under fire when it was disclosed that secret wait lists were uncovered at a VA health care system in Arizona amid reports that several veterans had died waiting for health care. Government investigations found significant system failures.
“The notion of dismantling the VA system would be a mistake,” Obama told The Gazette. “If you look at, for example, VA health care, there have been challenges getting people into the system. Once they are in, they are extremely satisfied and the quality of care is very high.”
Obama said during his last term in office, he will continue to work on issues plaguing the Veterans Administration.
“It’s a big ocean liner, and on any given day, given how far-flung the agency is, we’re still seeing problems crop up that we have to correct. I think the main message is that we’ve still got a lot of work to do. It’s an all-hands-on-deck process.”
Obama appointed a new VA secretary in 2014 after Eric Shinseki resigned. Robert McDonald, former CEO of Procter & Gamble, took his place.
“I think Secretary McDonald has done a terrific job,” the president said. “Since there’s only eight months left in my administration, he’s got all the way until then to run through the tape.”
U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, agreed with Obama that total privatization would be a mistake, but he said veterans need more options, including private care.
To cope with the problems, Obama signed the Veterans Access to Care Act that requires the VA to contract with private providers when a clinic isn’t within 40 miles of the veteran seeking care or the wait time for care is more than 30 days.