The Veterans Health Administration would be disassembled under a proposal announced Tuesday that has the backing of Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn.
The measure would set up a new Department of Veterans Affairs division to give veterans a health insurance option to leave the VA system, and would pass VA's hospitals and clinics to a government-owned but independent nonprofit. Lamborn said he sees the measure as a solution to problems that have plagued VA's clinic in Colorado Springs, which has faced allegations of scheduling shenanigans amid some of the longest wait times in America.
"This is a bold proposal that give veterans more choice for their health care," Lamborn said.
The measure's author is one of the fastest-rising members of the GOP caucus, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers of Washington, who heads the House Republican Conference.
McMorris-Rodgers called her bill a "discussion draft," a sort of trial balloon sent aloft ahead of major legislation. The draft can be found online at http://1.usa.gov/1rc7Rfd.
Her move comes after President Barack Obama told The Gazette last week that administration efforts to reform VA are taking root. He took specific aim at proposals like the new measure that could hand VA's health care work over to private doctors.
"The notion of dismantling the VA system would be a mistake," Obama said in an interview that followed the Air Force Academy's graduation.
But with Republican majorities in the House and Senate, the idea of privatizing VA care has gained steam. GOP lawmakers argue that private competition would force the VA to take better care of veterans.
"This proposal should serve as the starting point for putting veterans in charge of their health care," McMorris-Rodgers said in a statement.
By putting the measure up as a draft, House Republicans are setting up what could be a major theme in summer and fall campaigns. McMorris-Rodgers and Lamborn say they plan to float the draft measure with veterans in their districts during townhalls.
"I think bottom-up is better than top down - more people are involved and feel like they have a say in the outcome," Lamborn said.
It also gives GOP lawmakers a topic removed from the presidential race where presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has proven to be controversial.
When asked if it's a good thing to be able to campaign on an issue not named Donald Trump, Lamborn chuckled, caught himself and issued a politically-polite response.
"I think this would be a great issue to propose," Lamborn said. "It's a positive, bold proposal going forward."
"I look forward to receiving feedback from veterans and the organizations that represent them, so we can ensure veterans receive the health care they deserve and have earned in a timely manner," McMorris-Rodgers said in a statement.
Timely care has been an issue in Colorado Springs, where the latest VA figures show a quarter of appointments at the Floyd Lindstrom Clinic off Fillmore Street are scheduled more than a month out.
Lamborn said giving veterans a health insurance option and putting clinics under a nonprofit would shorten wait times and accountability would soar.
The nonprofit that would inherit VA's health facilities wouldn't fall under civil service regulations. Lamborn and other GOP lawmakers have eviscerated the agency for not firing wayward employees due to existing rules.
An independent nonprofit would have "more freedom and more ability to work outside the red tape," Lamborn said.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240