By Nicholas Fandos
The New York Times, November 9, 2017
With their hopes of repealing the Affordable Care Act dashed for now, deep-pocketed conservative activists have turned their attention to a smaller but still potent new effort: allowing private health care to compete with Veterans Affairs hospitals for the patronage of the nation’s veterans.
Concerned Veterans for America, a little-known advocacy group backed by the conservative billionaire industrialists Charles G. and David H. Koch, is pressing Republicans to make it easier for veterans to see private doctors at government expense. The group’s voice had been lonely until recently, when a raft of Koch-connected advocacy organizations and other conservative allies joined the effort.
The relative newcomers to the world of veterans policy see in the debate an opportunity to advance their campaign against government-provided medical care. Together, they have pledged millions of dollars for advertising and outreach, and have unleashed a small army of lobbyists and donors to pressure the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers.
Republicans and conservative groups would prefer new spending be at least partly offset by cost savings and other cuts to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Democrats and the old-line veterans groups say they are unlikely to support a plan unless it makes simultaneous investments in the agency’s own capacity. Without it, they argue, the problems that have necessitated private care in the first place will only fester.
“This is starve the beast to the point that it can’t function situation,” (Representative Tim) Walz said of the latter plan, “because if you don’t do this, the complaints against the V.A. are going to increase exponentially. The wait lists are going to increase. And then they are going to say, ‘See, we need more outside care.’”
Battle over veterans’ health care comes down to VA Choice
By Michael Blecker
San Francisco Chronicle, November 8, 2017
Kevin Miller is a U.S. Marine Corps Iraq combat veteran who came home with a wide range of chronic health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and injuries to his neck, spine and shoulders. Thanks to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ model of integrated care, Miller can coordinate and receive all his care at the VA hospital in San Francisco.
There he can see specialists for his physical injuries, as well as mental health practitioners who understand the unique experience of veterans. If we send veterans like Miller to private doctors for their specialty care, however, then their care would be fragmented and medical appointments scattered at facilities miles apart.
Yet that is what the federal government tried to do, setting off a battle for health care for weary warriors to wage with policymakers and a well-funded special interest over the VA and its future.
To address problems of long wait times at Veterans Health Administration hospitals, in 2014 Congress established the Veterans Choice Program, which provides private health care options for eligible veterans at government expense.
In their war against the VA, our nation’s only truly universal health care system, special interest groups such as Concerned Veterans of America backed by the Koch brothers led the federal government to adopt VA Choice. In their larger efforts to attack all government-funded programs and services, the Koch brothers led a misinformation campaign claiming the VA system — one of the largest government agencies with 320,000 public employees — is broken.
Advocates, however, had long warned that private-sector options increase the cost of veterans’ health care.
Because health care dollars follow the veteran, the migration of dollars out of the system affected the operating budgets at the VA facility programs. VA medical and regional directors wrote in an internal VA memo that the costs of outsourcing veterans’ care to the private sector has been a “major driver, in budget shortfalls for Veterans Health Administration facilities across the country.”
The VA is a system worth saving. If we continue to divert precious taxpayer dollars to private care, we risk dismantling a veteran-centered health care system designed for their special needs.
House and Senate veterans committees are drafting legislation due for action this week to determine how much the VA outsources care. The Koch brothers and their network are pushing for a multimillion-dollar campaign to include loopholes in the legislation that will move us closer to dismantling the VA.
Write your members of Congress and urge them to keep the Koch network out of our VA.
Michael Blecker is executive director of Swords to Plowshares.
By Don McCanne, M.D.
All health care systems have problems, including the Veterans Health Administration. It is not difficult to come to the conclusion that when problems exist you try to fix them. Yet Charles and David Koch, in their anti-government fervor, would destroy the government-run VA Health system by privatizing it since effectuating their libertarian ideology is vastly more important to them than fulfilling, in the very best way we can, our fundamental moral obligation to support the health of our veterans.
Although you might think that the conservatives believe they own the copyright for the American flag, they don’t. It belongs to all of us. Tomorrow, Veterans Day, I will mount the flag on my front lawn. I will salute the flag and then kneel before it as I pay respect for not only what it stands for but also for what it should stand for.
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