Senate on verge of passing further VA privatization
David Groves/The Stand

WASHINGTON—Turning aside strong objections from Department of Veterans Affairs workers, the Senate’s ruling Republicans – with Democratic help – appeared to be on their way to further privatizing VA health care, a key goal of a right-wing cabal that heavily influences GOP President Donald Trump.

“Call your U.S. Senators NOW at 833-480-1637 and tell them to vote NO on S2372, the VA Mission Act. Every dollar spent on privatized care deprives our veterans of the VA specialized care that saves their lives and helps veterans heal more effectively,” the Washington State Labor Council alerted readers of its electronic newsletter, The Stand.

The vote was scheduled for the afternoon of May 23. The Senate invoked cloture, limiting debate on the measure, on May 21, 91-4. The GOP-run House previously passed a similar pro-privatization bill.

Influenced and prodded by a phony veterans front group established and funded by the wealthy right-wing Koch Brothers, Trump and GOP leaders want to further – if not completely – privatize the VA health care system, the nation’s largest, the unions said.

Trump installed front group members in top VA positions below then-Secretary David Shulkin, who opposed privatization. When Shulkin clashed with those politicos, Trump used Shulkin’s own ethical problems – he took his wife on an unjustified taxpayer-paid trip to the Wimbledon tennis tournament, then tried to cover it up – to fire him via a tweet. A successor has yet to be confirmed.

“To say that Donald Trump’s handling of the VA has been a chaotic disaster would be an understatement,” said Iraq War vet Will Fischer, government relations director of VoteVets, a progressive pro-worker veterans group.

But except for VoteVets, veterans groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Vietnam Veterans of America, backed the legislation. They said it would help modernize the VA system and also extend the so-called “Choice Program,” which lets vets seek private health care, paid for with VA money. The right wing uses Choice as its opening wedge to privatize the whole VA.

And Shulkin, as well as former VA administrators, including former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., a badly injured Vietnam vet, also backed the legislation.

The two unions said S2372 leaves VA and its hospitals vulnerable to the privatizers, whose backers are also rabidly anti-worker. So two unions representing the VA workers, the Government Employees (AFGE) and National Nurses United (NNU) leaped to defend the hospitals and the workers.

“The VA Mission Act is a horrendous piece of legislation that will set the only health care system tailored to veterans on a path of total privatization. It’s a broken promise to our nation’s veterans and imperils the future of their health care,” said AFGE President J. David Cox, a retired VA psychiatric nurse in a North Carolina hospital.

“We elected our members of Congress to protect veterans, but S2372 is an abdication of that responsibility. Instead of deciding how to improve VA hospitals and medical centers, Congress is passing the buck. Now, an unaccountable, private, corporate-style commission will have the power to decide which facilities to close, which to repair, and which to build.”

“We already know 92 percent of veterans want to see the VA invested in, 80 percent don’t want vouchers, and only 13 percent of private providers are even capable of treating veterans. The VA Mission Act blows past those facts to push veterans out in to the unaccountable private, for-profit system and it’s clear why – money.”

“For years, special interest groups have tried to dismantle the VA so they could make a buck off the backs of veterans, and now they’re closer than ever. It’s a disgrace.” AFGE represents the majority of VA workers.

“Marketed as a means to expand some benefits for veterans, this bill masks a long desired corporate, far right goal of accelerating the dismantling and privatization of our Veterans Administration program at the expense of countless veterans who have served our nation,” said NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN. NNU represents 11,000 VA RNs.

NNU said S2372 would let the new VA secretary – whoever he or she is – “privatize and dismantle broad swaths of the VA system. It also creates a commission, appointed solely by the president bypassing Congress, which would have the ability to close VA medical centers and clinics.”

“It would be more honest and transparent to call this bill the Mission to Privatize Act and stop the pretense it has any other real goal,” said Ross. “If Congress members want to expand benefits for our veterans, they should enact that legislation as a stand-alone measure, not as political cover for a hastening a program of privatization,” she added.

“We as a country made a solemn promise to the men and women who signed up to serve our country. And despite what Congress seems to think, it was not to force veterans into for-profit, walk-in clinics. It was to provide a comprehensive health care system created for their unique needs,” Cox said.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.