Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson suggested eliminating the Department of Veterans Affairs in a talk radio interview Wednesday, leading to swift condemnation from one veterans group.
The former Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon said problems with the Veterans Affairs health system are discouraging people from joining the military in the first place and said there needed to be a single system to take care of active duty troops as well as those who are no longer serving.
"We don't need a Department of Veterans Affairs," Carson told host Dave Ramsey. "Veterans Affairs should be folded in under the Department of Defense. And it should be a smooth transition. We need to be looking at the way we take care of soldiers."
Instead of the current system that provides treatment for veterans at government-run hospitals, Carson suggested that they should have a health savings account that would pay for treatment at any medical facility. The VA facilities could then be used for specialized treatments for traumatic brain injuries and limb replacements — problems that particularly afflict veterans.
But Paul D. Eaton, a retired Army Major General and adviser to progressive political group VoteVets.org, said Carson's plan was an insult to veterans.
"Rather than think of ways to nickel and dime our veterans, Dr. Carson should be thinking of other areas of fat in government – particularly in defense contracts – that can be cut, so we can hire more doctors and caregivers, to provide returning veterans with the kind of care they earned," Eaton said in a statement.
In the past 18 months the VA health system has been shaken by revelations that some doctors manipulated wait lists and fresh questions over the availability of care for veterans. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald, who was put in place to clean up the department, is scheduled to be in Baltimore next week to address the American Legion convention.
Henry Howard, a spokesman for the American Legion, said the problems have been a priority for veterans, but that most former service members are happy with the care that they get through the VA.
"A large percent of veterans getting healthcare are great, the veterans love it," he said.