Embattled VA Health Care System May Merge With Pentagon’s (1)

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The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs are considering a joint contract for medical professionals that could serve both departments.

In an announcement released Jan. 31, the Defense Health Agency said that an initiative known as DOD VA Health Care Staffing Services has reached the “strategy development stage.” The VA says the initiative is designed to assess opportunities for joint contracts with the Pentagon for medical professionals.

“VA and DoD are conducting a business case analysis to identify what opportunities exist for efficiencies and benefit to both DoD and VA for contracted medical professional services using singular contracts rather than separate contracts for each respective healthcare system,” said Susan Carter, VA’s media relations director, in a Feb. 13 email.

In October, the DHA, which oversees the health care system for the 9.4 million participants in the military, sought health-care company feedback on the private industry’s ability to supplement clinical operations in Pentagon and VA facilities. That request also said DHA had “partnered with the VA to determine the feasibility of a joint strategic solution for the delivery of integrated, high-quality health care services to 19 million beneficiaries.”

(Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
Shared effort: Both the VA and Pentagon provide patients with prosthetics, like the high-tech arm shown here.

Although the two health care systems serve populations of roughly similar numbers, they deliver care differently and serve different clienteles: VA on average treats an older population, while DOD deals more with younger individuals and families.

VA has struggled in recent years to provide timely care to veterans within its internal systems. Congress overhauled a community care program in 2018 that expands opportunities for veterans to receive government-subsidized care from private providers.

In December, VA announced the award of the first three of six contracts for its community care program, which will greatly expand the use of civilian providers. Bloomberg Government has estimated that health spending through the private health care program could reach as much as $21 billion annually.

Veterans advocates and lawmakers have said the proper implementation of that community care overhaul is a top priority for this year and want to make sure the costly expansion does not come at the expense of internal health care services. Both veterans’ service organizations and those that represent military personnel are always concerned that drastic changes to their members’ health systems will have a negative impact on care.

The Trump administration and officials from both departments came under fire in 2017 for secretly considering merging parts of the two health care systems. Lawmakers said any attempt to combine the two would require congressional oversight and significant input from stakeholders. Political infighting over community care also led to the ouster of then-VA Secretary David Shulkin in 2018.

To contact the reporters on this story: Robert Levinson in Washington, D.C. at rlevinson@bgov.com; Megan Howard in Washington at mhoward@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Jodie Morris at jmorris@bgov.com; Heather Rothman at hrothman@bgov.com

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