Beyond the Iron Triangle: Implications for the Veterans Health Administration in an Uncertain Policy Environment
ARMY COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF COLLEGE FORT LEAVENWORTH KS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED MILITARY STUDIES
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The Department of Veterans Affairs is in the midst of a very serious crisis. The political and reputational fallout from the 2014 patient scheduling scandal exposed the further destabilization of the veterans policy subgovernment consisting of VA, the congressional veterans affairs committees, and large veterans service organizations. This subgovernment, historically referred to as the iron triangle, was among the most stable and insular domestic policy arenas in the six decades following World War II. Since the 1990s a steady trend towards extreme partisan polarization has characterized both chambers of Congress. This dynamic gradually politicized an array of domestic policy realms. While veterans policy was long immune to the worst of these trends, events during the 112th and 113th Congresses 2011-2015 illustrate the encroachment of partisan politicization into a once relatively nonpartisan issue area. This phenomenon was visible in both the Republican controlled House and the Democratic controlled Senate. Simultaneous with the politicization of veterans issues, the stature and influence of large veterans service organizations such as the American Legion and VFW continue to decline. Although these groups were considered nearly invincible and achieved impressive legislative triumphs in the decades following World War II, events in the 113th Congress demonstrate their diminished power in a destabilized subgovernment. Inexorable demographic factors such as a declining veteran population and falling membership converge with the rise of narrowly focused veterans advocacy groups that compete for public attention and finite philanthropy.
- Government and Political Science
- Medicine and Medical Research
- Military Forces and Organizations