Veteran Administration workers held 38 rallies at VA hospitals across the US to protest a proposal that if enacted would privatize health care services for veterans and shut down all VA hospitals and medical centers.
The proposal was drafted by seven members of the Commission for Care, a commission appointed by Congress in 2014 to recommend ways to improve care and accessibility at the VA.
Members of this rump group, which met in private, include executives from four for-profit hospital companies and an employee of the Koch brothers, the right-wing duo, who have spent millions funding political candidates who support privatizing government services.
The commission will soon release its recommendations, and VA workers and veterans are concerned that the commission’s recommendations will reflect the thinking expressed in the report from the rump group.
“Even though the vast majority of veterans oppose privatizing the VA, there are many people who would benefit financially from dismantling the VA and forcing veterans into a network of for-profit hospitals and insurance companies,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union that represents 230,000 VA employees. “VA employees across the country are speaking out against these corrupt business interests with a clear message: it’s time to put people ahead of profits.”
Veteran’s groups have also expressed opposition to the proposals in the report, which has been dubbed “the strawman document.”
Recently, eight leaders of veterans organization signed a letter to the Commission for Care chairperson expressing their opposition to ideas in the document.
“On behalf of our combined 5 million members, the vast majority of whom use the VA health care system, we write to express our grave concerns with the ‘proposed strawman document’ that was discussed and disseminated during your March meetings in Washington, DC,” reads the opening sentence of a letter.
Among other things, the veteran groups’ leaders were concerned about the proposal on pages 19-20 of the document that calls for closing VA hospitals and medical centers, halting all construction of new VA facilities, halting all renovations of existing facilities, and transitioning veterans in need of care to private hospitals and care providers.
The document envisions that in twenty years all VA hospitals and medical centers will be closed, and the VA will exist only to write voucher checks to private health care providers.
The Commission for Care was created in 2014 when the media reported that veterans were experiencing long waits for care at VA hospitals.
As it turns out, the long waits were not typical of the system, and the media reports were a bit exaggerated; nevertheless, Congress acted to address the problem by appropriating funds to hire more staff and improve VA facilities. It also allowed veterans facing delays in service to seek help from private providers.
As a result, the VA has added 14,000 health care workers, opened up 3.9 million more square feet of clinical space, and added 20 million provider hours of care.
It also cut its compensation and claims backlog by 87 percent and overhauled its scheduling system.
Those who have actually studied the VA’s performance such as RAND have concluded that “the quality of care provided by the VA health system generally was as good as or better than other health systems on most quality measures.”
But the authors of “the strawman document,” chose to ignore the progress made and good work done by the VA and, instead, to pursue their own agenda.
According to the veterans’ leaders, veterans want to see improvements at the VA but not at the cost of eliminating VA facilities and the “veteran-centric” services they provide.
The veteran leaders also criticized “the strawman document” for ignoring wishes of veterans “who would choose to receive care at VA medical facilities rather than seek care from disparate community providers.”
The VA rallies by AFGE members, many of whom like Cox are veterans themselves, was meant to call public attention to the possibility that VA services could be privatized for the benefit of private interests rather than for veterans themselves.
“Veterans should not be reduced to a line item on a budget sheet,” said Cox. “They have served our country with honor and distinction, and their medical care shouldn’t be left to the whims of profiteers and claims adjusters.”
AFGE locals have organized 38 rallies to date in 19 states: Alabama, Alaska, California, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.