The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has stated its requirement to hire about 10,000 clinicians and nurses, including 1,500 doctors, to help meet the rising demands. Fixing the problems that were at the root of the waiting-list scandal at the VA will cost $17.6 billion over three years. This was informed by the agency’s acting secretary Sloan D. Gibson last year. As of this article we had not received a response on what changes may affect the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago.

The department, which has an annual budget of $154 billion, runs 150 medical centers and hundreds of clinics, apart from providing benefits such as disability compensation to veterans. In the wake of the scandal, doubts have arisen over the VA’s ability to accurately forecast staffing needs. Nobody knows for sure whether 10,000 more personnel will solve all the VA problems.

Lawmakers have persistently raised questions over the last few months whether giving a lot more money is really going to cure what ails the VA. Some questions laws makers are pondering:

How can the VA run their hospitals more efficiently?
Are so many medical tests for patients necessary?
Are retirement packages too costly for VA personnel?
Can the current employees be more productive?
Are the current employees putting in enough time?
How quickly can the VA discharge incompetent or unreliable employees?
Is the VA leadership and management trustworthy?

The department’s budget has jumped from $100 billion in 2009 to $154 billion in 2014. To many this already appears to be a lot of money. But supporters of military veterans have been vocal in their criticism of the VA leadership’s lack of forthrightness when it comes to asking for additional resources.

Ambiguous Data

Lawmaker-VAAccording to Chris Edwards, who is an editor for DownsizingGovernment.org at the Cato Institute, the data on VA patient wait times turned out to be ambiguous. It has become a challenge for Congress to determine the real costs for fixing the problems of the agency. As a result, lawmakers at signaling quick fix solutions rather than adopt a sustainable long-term plan. North Carolina Republican, Sen. Richard Burr, said last year that they could not even start a debate on the bill’s proposals because the cost estimates provided by the Congress Budget Office (CBO) were completely out of line.

The CBO has admitted that its estimates are marred by uncertainties, and it faced a series of troubles when it tried to come up with a logical dollar figure. The CBO’s problems included dealing with bogus data and cooked accounts. The same reason the VA was marred in a scandal in the first place.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the CBO, who is currently president of the American Action Forum, said that it is not easy to determine the actual figure. There is significant uncertainty about how many veterans are actually out there awaiting care. This has made it a challenge for the troubled agency to come up with a score.

Cost Escalation under the New Proposals

The senate as well as the house bills would allow veterans to see a private physician in case they have been on the wait-list for an unreasonably long period of time. The senate bills puts this time period at one month, and the house says it should be two weeks before they can see a non-VA doctor.

According to the CBO, once this program is up and running, the VA’s costs could be as high as $50 billion per year. The prevailing uncertainty and unpredictability of the program makes it difficult to reach a precise figure. The editor of DownsizingGovernment.org at the Cato Institute, Chris Edwards, said that the estimates of the CBO can only be as valid as the data it uses. Detailed facility by facility figures would be required if one needs to predict the cost of this bill accurately.

The CBO is “continuing to work on reports for a number of different reform scenarios,” a staffer said, though many Republican lawmakers have insisted on offsetting the bill, while Democrats argue it’s emergency spending that should be tacked on to the deficit.

Article by:  Benjamin Roussey, dbfchicago.com Writer