WASHINGTON, April 14, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- When politicians in Washington decide to send our troops into battle overseas, a promise is made. Our armed forces risk life and limb to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies," and in exchange they will be taken care of when they return.
Now, some Koch-backed politicians on Capitol Hill are trying to break that promise to our veterans and sell them out to private, for-profit VA providers. And unless we do something about it, they just might succeed. Let me explain.
In 2014, the "secret waitlist" scandal rocked the VA. As millions of new veterans returned home from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, too few caregivers were hired to meet the demand. After months of work by veterans' groups and our union, Congress finally agreed to fund the VA and fill the care gap. The VA has made slow but steady progress ever since: adding 13,940 additional health care staffers, completing more than 97 percent of appointments within 30 days, reducing veteran unemployment to its lowest level in seven years, and increasing night and weekend clinical hours for veterans by 5.7 percent.
Despite the progress in the intervening two years, a well-funded conspiracy of anti-government groups and politicians have plotted a strategy to exploit the waitlist issue and privatize the VA for good. The Koch Brothers' fake veterans' group, Concerned Veterans for America, and their mouthpieces in Congress launched a brutal smear campaign against the VA, painting it as a hapless bureaucracy that could never be fixed. The reality, of course, could not be further from the truth.
According to a recent Vet Voice Foundation survey of veterans, 64% were opposed to privatizing VA medical centers and services. When asked whether they would like a voucher in place of their coordinated VA care, an overwhelming 80% of respondents said no. This is in addition to staunch opposition to privatization by the eight largest veterans' organizations in the country.
You'd think with veterans, their service organizations, and VA caregivers agreeing that the VA must stay, we would be working toward making it better, not tearing it down. Unfortunately, big-money insider politics has infected Washington's effort to improve the VA and turned it into an all-out attempt to eliminate the system that 9 million veterans depend on for their care.
The most imminent threat emerged just last month out of the so-called "Commission on Care," a group of political appointees tasked with developing recommendations for improving veterans' health care. Despite what its gentle name might suggest, this is no "independent" blue ribbon commission; it is rife with glaring conflicts of interest and undue political influence that make it a better tool for self-enrichment than helping veterans.
Of the 15 Commission appointees, four are high-level private hospital executives that stand to profit from privatization. One is openly on the payroll of the Koch-funded Concerned Veterans for America. Even worse, not a single mainstream Veterans Service Organization like the American Legion or Disabled American Veterans – you know, the veterans who will actually be forced to live with the group's decisions – have a seat at the table. Plain and simple, the Commission has been rigged against veterans from the start, and the results could be devastating for millions of veterans and their families.
Just last month, pro-privatization members of the Commission met in secret to develop the so-called "strawman document," (more on this next week) a proposal that would shutter VA medical centers and instead give veterans a coupon to shop for their care at private, for-profit VA providers. This shocking proposal would divert billions of public dollars to for-profit health insurance companies while forcing veterans returning from overseas to struggle with fractured care from private, for-profit VA providers lacking experience treating the unique needs of the veteran population.
Commission members who disagree with privatization have been subject to unprecedented bullying by pro-privatization lawmakers like House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, who in a recent letter berated a committee member for an anti-privatization article a colleague wrote for Washington monthly. This blatantly partisan interference and intimidation further diminishes the Commission's work, and calls the entire process into question.
How can we the people in good faith support this Commission when it is clearly designed to benefit the rich and powerful, and not our veterans? It is the very definition of the fox guarding the hen house, and our veterans stand to lose the most. As the saying goes, if you're not at the table, you're on the menu.
Making matters worse, Miller and his Senate ally Marco Rubio are now targeting the very employees who exposed the waitlist problem in the first place. Their bills – H.R. 1994 and S. 1082 respectively – would make the entire VA workforce at-will employees who would have no meaningful protection from reprisals for blowing the whistle. The last thing we need is to give bad managers carte blanche authority to fire honest employees who just want to do right by the veterans they serve.
President Abraham Lincoln created the Department of Veterans Affairs to fulfill a promise: "to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan." We must not allow a morally bankrupt group politicians and shadowy billionaires to break that promise now.
Call your lawmakers at 202-224-3121 and tell them: do not privatize veterans' health care by selling out veterans to the lowest bidder. It's time to properly fund and staff the VA.
SOURCE American Federation of Government Employees