By Chas Henry
The secretary of Veterans Affairs is suggesting certain care for women Veterans be outsourced — and not all Veterans’ groups think that’s a good idea.
“The VA has some highly specialized programs that could not be replicated in the private sector,” Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin tells CBS Radio’s ConnectingVets.com. “And the private sector has things that, frankly, they’re doing better than the VA. One of those examples is maternity care.”
Shulkin says women are the fastest-growing demographic slice of the U.S. Military Veteran population.
“But the VA,” he said, “is not a place that has ever invested in maternity care. And I don’t think we should. I think it is being done very, very well in the community, and I think we should take advantage of that.”
Shulkin said he would support provision of obstetrics and gynecological care being provided by civilian providers, reimbursed by the VA.
This would be a best of both worlds solution by creating “an integrated care system where we take advantage of what VA is best at, what VA really excels at for caring for our Veterans. And also what the private sector is best at,” Shulkin says.
His suggestion comes just as the department’s inspector general concluded a congressionally requested review of VA healthcare provided to women Vets. During fiscal year 2014, the report finds 82.5 percent of gender-specific care visits by women Veterans occurred at VA facilities, with 17.5 percent being seen by physicians at non-VA facilities.
A move toward outsourced maternity care for women Veterans would run counter to positions taken by a number of large Veteran Service Organizations.
“The VA system itself is supposed to be supporting all veterans equally,” said Iraq war Vet Allison Jaslow, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “As a male, you can go in and get treated head-to-toe for service disabilities and preventative care, but as a woman you can’t… there’s no reason why women again shouldn’t be able to get the same sort of basic support and care at their VA facilities as a man can.”
Joe Plenzler, a spokesman with the American Legion, says the group worries about what he described as the VA’s historically “male-only approach” to providing healthcare. A recent American Legion resolution called on the VA to provide “full comprehensive health services for women veterans department-wide, including, but not limited to, increasing treatment areas and diagnostic capabilities for female veteran health issues, [and] improved coordination of maternity care.”
Kayda Keleher, associate director of legislative services with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, says the VA should base decisions on providing maternity care on current and projected populations of women Veterans in individual areas. In some instances, that might make the case for providing care at a VA center, she says.
“If you have a medical facility that has a high enough population to ensure that the medical providers there are able to practice and carry out the best quality of care, then I think that’s something the VA should definitely look into.”
Where populations are lower, though, Keleher says women Veterans seeking maternity treatment are likely to receive better care from civilian physicians in their community — because those providers offer the benefit of more constant practice in their field.
“I really think it comes down to where the populations are,” she said, “and promising that Veterans are able to still receive the best quality of care.”