Congress’s passage this week of an expansion of health care benefits for millions of veterans who have been exposed to toxic burn pits is an important step toward ending our country’s disrespectful and inadequate treatment of veterans.
But there’s much more work to do. Another big step would be to reverse the slow privatization of veterans health care.
A recent survey of thousands of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees—one-third of which were veterans—found that nearly a quarter have shifted their work to monitoring private sector care. Employees are also saying that the shift to increasingly sending veterans to private providers rather than VA facilities is making it harder to coordinate care and negatively impacting veterans’ health.
See, even though the VA outperforms our private health insurance system—and even though full privatization would potentially double or even triple costs—the Republican-controlled Congress back in 2018 passed the VA MISSION Act.
“The objective … is clear: further privatization of key services inside the Department of Veterans’ Affairs,” wrotejournalists Suzanne Gordon and Jaspar Craven at the time. “[The legislation] has been plotted out behind closed doors by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, powerful business interests, and savvy conservative veterans’ groups who find themselves newly influential in Trump’s Washington.”
It’s been a while since the Trump days, so it’s easy to forget how wild the cast of characters really got. But Trump actually appointed a beer mogul with no health care experience—Jake Leinenkugel—as his advisor on veterans’ issues, particularly mental health care. Leinenkugel would eventually steer public money to unproven, experimental privately offered treatments like hyperbaric oxygen therapy and something called “brain zapping.”
Now we have proof—from the mouths of employees—that the VA Mission Act’s privatization is harming veterans.
Fortunately, a facilities closing commission (like BRAC) that was created by Trump has been shut down by bipartisan opposition to weakening the VA. Even Joe Manchin pledged to provide the veterans health system with “the resources, and tools it needs to continue delivering quality care … now and into the future.”
Conservatives like to say they support the troops. Well, here’s a chance to actually listen to them and do what’s right.
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Photo by Pennsylvania DMVA.