A veterans' organization says it wants to end Veterans Health Administration healthcare as it has long been known, turning oversight of the operation over to a non-profit government corporation and letting veterans relying on VA healthcare go where they like for it.

Concerned Veterans for America detailed its proposal in "Fixing Veterans Health Care."

"Our proposal puts veterans in control of their health care," the organization states in the introduction of the 100-page report. "This approach is not anti-VHA. It is pro-veteran. The VA should be given every opportunity to compete for veterans' healthcare dollars. But it can no longer take veterans for granted as customers."

One recommendation bound to make waves with traditional veterans' service organizations is the group's proposal for a Veterans Accountable Care Organization, or VACO. The government-chartered non-profit corporation would monitor the performance of VA facilities and "have more latitude to close unused hospitals and improve well-used ones," writes Avik Roy, a senior fellow of The Manhattan Institute's Center for Medical Progress and co-chair of the task force that prepared the report.

Roy wrote in Forbes that the "independent panel, modeled after the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990 (BRAC), could formalize [the] independence" of the corporation to oversee VA healthcare.

Among other things, the proposal would allow veterans currently enrolled in VA healthcare to continue in it but with the option of getting care in the private sector.

Future veterans who become eligible for VA care would be enrolled in a proposed system. Veterans in the VA's established Priority 1, 2 and 3 categories -- who have service-connected disabilities -- would get "the most robust coverage, minimal cost-sharing and expedited access to VHA facilities."

Priority 4-9 veterans, referred to as "disadvantaged veterans," would also receive some level of assistance in receiving insurance, according to the group's proposal.

Paralyzed Veterans of America said it is concerned with the fate of veterans in the Priority 4 category.

"These veterans are not service connected but have the best chance at achieving self-sufficiency and relatively good health in the VA system," PVA Deputy Executive Director Sherman Gillums Jr. said Thursday.

In a statement, the Disabled American Veterans said it was not "willing to take a blind leap of faith" by endorsing the proposed recommendations.

"We certainly agree that the Department of Veterans Affairs needs to significantly improve how it provides health care," the DAV said. "However, comprehensive changes must be made judiciously and with veterans always remaining the top priority."
 
Such a change could simply replace one bureaucracy with another, the group said.

The VA panned the Concerned Veterans' proposal in a statement Thursday, hitting it as an effort to turn over veterans' care to the insurance and healthcare industries.

"Unfortunately, many of today's proposals advocate 'contracting out' a sacred mission to care for those who have borne the battle," the statement said. "There is an important role for outside care in the veteran health model to supplement VA's own care, but that role should not diminish or obscure the importance of VA's healthcare system. Reforming VA healthcare cannot be achieved by dismantling it and preventing veterans from receiving the specialized care and services that can only be provided by VA."

The VA already is under scrutiny by lawmakers and veterans groups who fear the Veterans Choice Act -- established last year to shorten patient wait times by enabling veterans to see non-VA providers -- could be used as a first step toward privatizing VA healthcare.

Michael Helm, national commander of The American Legion, said the Choice Act "could be the camel's nose in the tent, if you will," which is why the Legion is keeping a close eye on it.

On Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, expressed concern with the source of the report and the conservative backing received by Concerned Veterans for America.

"There are some very conservative organizations who don't believe in government," Sanders said during a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. "Some are funded by the Koch brothers -- who don't believe in Social Security, who don't believe in Medicare, who don't believe in the VA. They want to dismember the VA."

The Washington Post and Pro Publica reported that the group, originally named TOHE, was funded to the tune of $1.9 million from TC4 Trust, an organization established by Charles and David Koch to pump money into conservative causes.

"I will fight any effort to dismember the VA," said Sanders, who was chairman of the Senate panel until Republicans became a majority in the chamber with the 2014 elections. "When you talk to veterans of Iraq as I do often, or the veterans' organizations all over this country they say ... by and large, the VA has problems, but you've got a pretty good cost-effective system."

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryantjordan@military.com.