NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Funding For V.A. Hospitals Increases, As Need Declines

January 14, 1996

Government reports call the Veterans Health Administration -- the hospital arm of the Department of Veterans Affairs -- a bloated bureaucracy, while the Clinton administration proposes to increase its budget by more than $700 million.

With its network of 173 hospitals and more than 500 clinics, nursing homes and other facilities -- including about 20 golf courses -- Veterans Affairs (V.A.) runs the nation's largest health system.

According to General Accounting Office reports, and studies by the V.A. Inspector General:

  • Since 1990, spending on health care for veterans has risen 43 percent -- four times the pace of other spending -- yet, one-quarter of the beds in V.A. hospitals stand empty.
  • In a look at six hospitals in 1990, 21 of 131 surgeons "spent no time in the operating room at all during the year."
  • Four years later, a study of three other hospitals revealed that 13 of 79 surgeons went a year without lifting a knife.
  • The V.A.'s annual report for 1994 shows a 17 percent increase in outpatient visits since 1987 -- versus a 50 percent jump in such visits in the private sector.

By dwelling on building and renewing hospitals, V.A. resists the trend toward outpatient care and keeps patients in hospitals much longer than community hospitals do.

Observers say that the V.A. successfully resists attempts to control appropriations -- and, indeed, increases its budget regularly -- due to its political clout and the fact that it is considered something of a political sacred cow in Washington.

Source: Peter T. Kilborn, "Veterans Expand Hospital System in Face of Cuts," New York Times, January 14, 1996.


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