- The Washington Times - Monday, August 17, 2015

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said veterans shouldn’t be forced to go to failing VA hospitals but should be able to choose their local doctors, in a new plan he unveiled Monday to overhaul the beleaguered agency.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been wracked by scandals ranging from mismanagement of federal funds to secret wait lists that left veterans waiting for appointments — with dozens of them dying before the appointments happened.

Mr. Bush said the VA has been too slow in embracing the new Choice Care program that allows some veterans to see private doctors, with just 30,000 signing up. The former Florida governor said all 9 million eligible veterans should have that option and said the massive costs can be born by streamlining elsewhere in the department.

He also called for the VA to accept prescriptions written by private doctors, and for an online portal where patients can sign up for appointments, refill prescriptions, seek medical advice and access their health care records.

The former Florida governor, who earlier this month faced criticism after he said the government was spending too much on women’s health in the context of funding for Planned Parenthood, said the VA must do more to accommodate female veterans.

“That starts by preparing for the further growth in the female veterans population with responsive programs in organization, staff and training — including in obstetrics, gynecology and specializations in ovarian and breast cancer,” Mr. Bush wrote in his plan, posted on his campaign website ahead of a speech later Monday to Concerned Veterans of America.

He pushed for creating a more competitive bidding process to improve the quality of services and said he supports recent legislation that would make it easier for the agency to fire incompetent employees, who Republicans say often rise to management positions and stay there.

Mr. Bush also weighed in on recent construction snafus, such as new hospitals in Las Vegas and Denver, which have gone past deadlines and come in over budget. He said he would not allow the VA to handle its own construction and instead pass it on to a more “relevant federal agency.”

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