With the passage of the Maintain Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act in 2018, veterans receiving care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will have more options when it comes to seeking treatment outside of a VA facility. The passage of the act raised fears the U.S. government is attempting to “privatize” the VA. However, four former VA secretaries–Anthony Principi, Jim Nicholson, James Peake, and Robert McDonald–recently came out in support of the department’s new “access standards for community care and urgent care” in an opinion piece published by Fox News.

Some critics insinuate these moves to empower veterans and spur the VA to be more customer-focused may somehow lead to the dismantling of the VA and to outsourcing all medical care for veterans to the private sector. This presumption discounts and disregards what is happening inside the VA today because of efforts begun during our time in office and since then.”

According to the authors, the VA’s partnerships with outside providers are intended for veterans who are unable to get the health care they need from their local VA or for those who live too far from a VA facility to receive care promptly. The VA recently released its list of circumstances in which a veteran could seek treatment from private entities.

Those situations include: instances when a veteran cannot receive a specific medical service from their local facility, when a veteran lives in a state without a VA medical facility, those who live 40 miles away from a VA center and were already getting outside care under the old standards, when it’s determined a veteran would receive better care from an outside agency, or when a veteran’s local VA is not meeting the department standards of care. It also allows a veteran to seek outside care if the local VA is overwhelmed and has long average wait times for services, or if a veteran lives too far from an existing facility.

Despite the new standards, which are aimed at making it easier for veterans to see an outside provider, the former secretaries say the VA has never run better.

“There has been a dramatic rise in trust by patients who use the VA, VA employee morale is on the upswing, wait times for appointments are down significantly, the number of patient visits is increasing, the quality of VA health care compared to the private sector is as good or better in many areas, and the specialization in the VA is unique and cannot be replicated in the private sector. In sum, veterans are using VA more and they are not flocking to private doctors.”