The Transylvania Times -

Leave VA Alone


April 2, 2018

In December of 2016, soon after Donald Trump was elected president, we published an editorial entitled “Keep Eye On Public Purse.” The editorial focused on the transfer of public funds to private coffers in two distinct areas – infrastructure and education.

We noted that under then President-elect Trump’s infrastructure plan, private companies would be given massive tax cuts to build airports, highways, etc. but once built, those private companies would be paid fees and tolls by travelers for the use of those facilities. As CBS News reported at that time, “The developers would own the infrastructure and collect resulting cash flows from tolls or fees.”

We also noted that Betsy DeVos, who had been chosen to head the Department of Education, had no experience at all with public education, but was a strong advocate of charter schools and vouchers for students to attend private schools, even though many of them were under-performing traditional public schools.

Now we have the firing of David Shulkin as head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The president gave no specific reason in his Tweet why he was firing Shulkin. The apparent rationale is that Shulkin abused taxpayers’ money while on a trip to Europe. That seems like a dubious reason. Shulkin paid back much of the questionable money spent on that trip while others, such as Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Ryan Zinke, head of the Department of Interior, have wracked up similar, if not greater, expenses. If mismanagement of traveling funds is the real reason for Shulkin’s dismissal by Tweet, then plenty of other high-ranking administration officials should be handed their walking papers, too.

As for actual job performance, Shulkin seems to have done a good job. He was confirmed 100-0 by the Senate. During his tenure, wait times for veterans to receive medical care have been reduced and mental health services have been expanded and improved. Veterans are now able to view the status of their appeals by simply logging into their accounts, and trust in the VA among veterans has increased from 46 percent to 70 percent under Shulkin’s tenure.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, said, “Dr. Shulkin has made a tremendous impact toward improving the lives of veterans during his time at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said, “I think he’s done a fantastic job and I hate to see him go.”

Apparently, the real reason Shulkin was let go was that he did not want the VA privatized. Shulkin wrote last week that advocates for privatization “saw me as an obstacle who had to be removed. That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”

And there is plenty of profit to be made. The only federal department larger than the VA is the Pentagon. The VA operates 170 medical centers and 1,061 outpatient clinics. Its annual budget is roughly $200 billion. Even if a corporation were to receive 25 percent of the VA business, that’s an additional $50 billion in annual revenues.

It’s not just that these companies could, and most likely would, be less transparent and less accountable to the American taxpayers, but that veterans also could see their medical services reduced. Many veterans who use the VA have chronic issues for which they need treatment for the rest of their lives. Many of their injuries are atypical to those found in the civilian population. Handling their health care, much like handling the health care of the elderly or chronically ill, can be quite expensive. Just as health insurance companies avoid the elderly and chronically ill because they are not profitable customers, so too could private companies curtail the services now provided to veterans. That is why groups such as the American Legion, American Veterans (AmVets) and Veterans of Foreign Wars have come out against privatization. (The only veterans group to support the privatization is Concerned Veterans for America, an advocacy group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers.)

Moves toward privatization have not saved the government money. President Trump and Congress just increased the debt by another $1.5 trillion. Attempts to privatize the VA would shift taxpayers’ money into the coffers of wealthy corporations. Such a shift would be bad news for both the American taxpayer and our veterans.


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