- - Monday, September 1, 2014

Veterans have earned our gratitude — and our obligations to them. A soldier is responsible for the care of $7.5 million M1 Abrams main battle tank. A Marine airman controls a $70 million MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor helicopter. A few lucky Air Force pilots get to command the $138 million F-22 Raptor fighter jet. A Navy captain makes $12 billion decisions every day commanding an aircraft carrier. Finally, they’re all going to get a little more control over their medical care.

The scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs was about hundreds of thousands of former soldiers, sailors and airmen stuck on waiting lists, some dying for treatment. This continues to be a national shame and embarassment. Congress finally enacted a law, which became effective last month, to provide each veteran with a “Veteran’s Choice Card.” Those who have been on a waiting list for more than 30 days or who live 40 or more miles from the nearest VA Care hospital can use the card to receive care outside the VA system if they like.

Despite its name, the choice card is more an identification card, which merely entitles the holder to deal with a new bureaucracy. The Veteran’s Choice Card is not a credit card and can’t be used to pay for treatment. To cover costs of their care, veterans must go through a pre-approval process for the needed services.

It shouldn’t be this complicated. A health savings account pilot project would have been much simpler for the VA to administer and much simpler for veterans to use. With such an account, veterans would control their own money and make their own decisions about care priced below the plan’s deductible. Once above the deductible, the veteran could get VA care, or the VA could continue to pay for the care outside the system.

More than 17 million Americans use health savings accounts to cover extraordinary medical expenses. They enjoy the freedom to make decisions for themselves about whether a treatment is necessary. This is possible because this system puts the patient in charge.

Unfortunately, Democrats don’t want to release the government’s grip on soldiers’ lives. They watered down the new legislation so that the veteran still can’t escape endless waits.

Reform of the VA must include real choice. Waiting lines at the VA would disappear as fast as a veteran could pick up the telephone if he had the freedom to schedule an appointment with a doctor outside the system. That’s no more than our veterans deserve. They’re trusted with control of the tanks, planes, ships and weapons of war, and they can be trusted to do what’s best for themselves.