Officials from AMVETS are endorsing plans for a radical overhaul of the Veterans Affairs Department medical system, stating that "VA's self-determined role as the gatekeeper of veterans' health care choice must stop."
The proposal, unveiled by a Concerned Veterans for America task force earlier this year, has drawn mostly public criticism and apathy from traditional veterans service organizations until now, in part for its suggestions to have VA hospitals compete for patient business with private health care providers.
But AMVETS, the fourth largest veterans group in the country, called the ideas "a necessary first step" in reforming the department in light of ongoing concerns over care delays and patient wait times.
"The task force's proposals give veterans true health care choice, whether they want to keep using the VA system, or use their benefits at a provider better suited to their needs," the group said in a statement Wednesday. "Ultimately, veterans should be able to choose where, when and how to get their quality health care."
The move is likely to renew political fights over VA reform efforts, already a topic among the Republican presidential hopefuls running in 2016. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have endorsed parts of the CVA report, while neurosurgeon Ben Carson has called for merging the Veterans Health Administration with the Defense Department.
But critics on the left have called the ideas tantamount to privatizing VA, while department officials have accused CVA of working to "dismantle" government-backed health care for veterans. Paralyzed Veterans of America attacked the proposal as limiting veterans' options, rather than expanding them.
The task force plan would allow veterans to use their "earned health care funds" to access VA services or civilian physicians, as part of a broader expansion of the concept behind the current VA Choice Card program. Veterans seeking private care would have to pay additional co-pays and deductibles in some cases.
The Veterans Health Administration would be restructured as an independent organization forced to compete with private providers, but still focused on veterans with service-connected disabilities and military-related injuries.
CVA officials have lobbied for a broader discussion of the idea on Capitol Hill, to build support for legislative action mandating the changes. AMVETS officials said they will broach those same topics in their legislative discussions.
The full task force report is available at CVA's website.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.