- - Wednesday, May 28, 2014

America is failing the men and women who fought the nation’s wars on behalf of the rest of us. This is the heartbreaking lesson of the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs. We can do better, and we must do better.

It’s hardly believable that 40 veterans would be allowed to die while waiting for treatment at a VA hospital in Phoenix. The early investigation finds this is a systemic problem, afflicting the entire system. Veterans are stuck in limbo waiting for care. Administrators push patients out of VA hospitals to make their numbers look better. The department has failed to hire enough doctors. Fox News uncovered more than 1,000 vacancies within the VA system, including positions for 167 doctors.

As a Navy veteran and a medical doctor who received training at a VA hospital, Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland Republican, knows there’s a better way. He intends to introduce legislation to give vouchers to veterans waiting for medical attention.

It’s an idea gaining support in Congress. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, encourages the idea. So do Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona. They want to give veterans freedom of choice.

The problem and the solution isn’t about money. Running the enormous Veterans Affairs bureaucracy costs $164 billion every year; $55 billion of that goes for medical services. Instead of subsidizing a failed bureaucracy, it makes sense to issue credit cards to enable veterans to get their health care from a doctor or hospital of their choice.

Veterans could bypass lengthy waits at VA hospitals. Costs for taxpayers would be reduced, and medical care would be more accessible for veterans who don’t live near a VA hospital.

Vouchers would be optional. The veterans who are satisfied with their care at a VA hospital — and many are — could continue using those services. As demand diminishes, they’ll spend less time waiting in line.

Mitt Romney floated the idea of privatizing veterans care during the 2012 campaign after veterans approached him on the campaign trail with complaints that health care provided by the VA was often slow, impersonal and frustrating.

Mr. Romney was pilloried by defenders of the status quo, including some members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars who appeared at his rallies in T-shirts emblazoned with the message “Vets against VA vouchers.” But the growing scandal puts to rest the idea that the current system is acceptable. Nevertheless, making changes won’t be easy.

Certain Democrats will stand in the hospital door. Accepting vouchers as an alternative to the current VA health care would be an admission that government medicine doesn’t work. These Democrats know that Americans will see the similarity between the problems plaguing veterans’ health care and what they see coming as Obamacare continues its troubled stumble.

We all deserve better than that.