The Senate is likely to confirm Robert Wilkie as the new secretary of Veterans Affairs sometime in June. His confirmation, along with the newly passed VA Mission Act, will provide a much-needed opportunity to overhaul vital health care services for America’s military veterans.
On assuming his duties, the secretary’s primary goals should be first to reduce the government’s role in providing acute care by transferring most nonemergency inpatient care to private facilities. This reduced role would then allow the VA to expand its emphasis on other essentials veterans require: social and rehabilitative services, provision of prosthetics and orthotics, drug and alcohol treatment and long-term custodial care.
Even as aging veterans from World War II and Korea die off, the obligations of military hospitals and clinics continue to increase. Vietnam veterans, while not as many in number as those of the so-called Greatest Generation, are now entering their peak years of health care use. At the same time, younger veterans from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are returning home with more complicated injuries than those their fathers and grandfathers suffered — a result of more sophisticated weapons of war.
Moreover, the wide array of services required threatens to overwhelm