I recently read the Improving Veterans Access to Congressional Services Act of 2023 (HR 562), proposed by Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., who wrote about why he feels the bill should be passed. He wants to once again set up an office in the West Palm Veterans Administration Medical Facility, after the Biden administration ordered his office closed.
While the bill I’m sure was drafted with good intentions, we all know the rest of that adage.
Here are eight reasons why this bill would do a disservice to the VA and our veterans:
1. It violates the Hatch Act: The Hatch Act is one of the most successful pieces of legislation in the history of Congress. The Hatch Act, officially enacted in 1939, stands as a vital piece of U.S. legislation designed to maintain the nonpartisan nature of the federal workforce. It has kept politics out of our civil service employees’ way and has allowed them to thrive in serving the American people without threat of political retaliation or pressure. This ensures that government operations remain free from political influence and that federal resources are not leveraged for partisan purposes. By upholding these standards, the Hatch Act seeks to guarantee that government employees serve all American citizens impartially, regardless of their political affiliations. Don’t undo FDR’s cure for political cancer in the federal workplace.
2. Delay in policy implementation: Political disagreements can delay much-needed policy changes in veterans healthcare. This will lead to extended wait times, lack of access to necessary services, and a delay in updates to technology and infrastructure. Inserting the bureaucracy of congressional staff into the bureaucracy of VA will turn the relay race of VA/Congressional partnership into a mosh-pit.
3. Focus on partisan agendas over patients: When healthcare becomes politicized, the needs of veterans will take a back seat to partisan agendas. Instead of focusing on the best care possible for veterans, politicians could push for policies that align with their party’s interests, but not necessarily with what veterans need. We’ve all seen this movie before. It never ends well.
4. Undermines trust: Politicization of veterans healthcare will undermine trust in the system. Veterans may feel that their needs are secondary to political gamesmanship, leading to decreased trust in the VA healthcare system and in government as a whole. This is the exact opposite of what the VA needs right now.
5. Quality of care: If the focus is on political debates instead of providing the best care, the quality of care for veterans can be compromised. Imagine doctors and hospital administrators having to deal with another political hoop to jump through while trying to provide top notch care for veterans. This will lead to worse health outcomes for veterans.
6. Employee morale: Healthcare providers at VA will experience lower morale if they feel that their work is being influenced by politics rather than patient needs. This will lead to decreased job satisfaction and potentially even lead to a higher turnover rate than VA already has. Though VA leaders say hiring and retention are more successful than ever, keeping and attracting doctors, nurses and quality healthcare professionals has been a huge challenge for the agency. Don’t make it worse.
7. Decreased funding: Politicization could result in decreased funding for veterans healthcare if it becomes a contentious issue. If one party views increased funding for veterans healthcare as a victory for the other party, they might fight against it, leading to potential budget cuts.
8. Access to care: There could be reduced access to necessary care for some veterans if certain treatments or services become politicized. For example, if there is a political debate over the coverage of certain mental health treatments, veterans in need of these treatments will suffer.
Michael Embrich is a veteran, former member of the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on the Readjustment of Veterans and former Congressional staffer.
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