A weighty task awaits Robert Wilkie upon his likely installation as Veterans Affairs secretary: Spelling out the precise details of a hefty new law making it easier for military veterans to access private medical care.
Congress passed the VA Mission Act last week to try to ease the burden on military hospitals and clinics, which lack capacity to treat a huge influx of aging Vietnam-era veterans and younger service members returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One-third of veterans get government-paid care in private settings under the 2014 Choice Act, but that program has been heavily criticized as being too unwieldy and bureaucratic.
Lawmakers and veterans’ groups hailed the bipartisan Mission Act as a critical change. But it’s important to realize that there’s a lot in the text that is open to interpretation by the VA secretary, who will have to lead the agency in defining who is eligible to visit a privately run facility instead of one of VA’s 1,200 health-care centers.
Two things need to happen first, though. President Trump has to sign the Mission Act into