Given the contradictory statements that emanate from the While House on a daily basis on a whole range of issues, the Trump administration’s denial that privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs is on the radar rings hollow.
Indeed, veterans, in particular, should heed the warnings from ousted VA Secretary David Shulkin about President Donald Trump’s political appointees within the department and the White House.
“I was not against reforming VA, but I was against privatization,” Shulkin told National Public Radio after he was fired in March by Trump.
The former undersecretary in charge of the veterans’ health system during the Obama administration put the issue in context when he said:
“We’ve gotten so much done. But in the last few months, it really has changed. Not from Congress, but from these internal political appointees that were trying to politicize VA and trying to make sure our progress stopped. It’s been very difficult.”
Shulkin contended that the political appointees want to see Veterans Affairs transition to subsidizing private health care for veterans.
There’s a reason proponents of privatization have stepped up their campaign: The Department of Veterans Affairs is big business, and President Trump has shown an eagerness to involve American corporations in the affairs of government.
For instance, the private sector would be a major participant in the $1 trillion infrastructure rebuilding and upgrading program he unveiled in March.
That’s why the VA, with its $200 billion budget, staff of 370,000 and a complex of 3,000 facilities must be protected from private interests.
While providing health care to veterans is the main focus of the department – the Veterans Health Administration operates the largest hospital network in the U.S. – there are other important services veterans depend on.
Disability benefits, education subsidies and cemeteries are just a few of the numerous programs available to the men and women who served this country.
The VA is second only to the Department of Homeland Security in terms of its budget and importance.
That is why the president’s nomination of White House physician Rear Admiral Ronny Johnson was greeted with such dismay on Capitol Hill and among veterans service organizations. There is nothing in Johnson’s background to suggest he could lead such a vast government agency.
Last month, Jackson withdrew from consideration as allegations of professional misconduct continued to mount.
His departure gives the White House the opportunity to find someone who not only has the qualifications and experience to lead one of the largest departments in the federal government, but also has a strong understanding of the issues confronting veterans.
That’s the message U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, brought to the Mahoning Valley on Friday when he spoke to veterans at the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission in Youngstown.
“Millions of American veterans depend on VA health care and benefits, and they deserve a strong leader at the top who will stand up to political pressures and work every day to improve care for them,” Brown said.
The senior senator from Ohio pledged to fight any attempt to privatize the VA, insisting that privatization of government services “doesn’t work.”
Brown correctly pointed out that every veterans organization opposes any attempt to involve the private sector in the delivery of services because “they know the bottom line will be profits, not service to veterans.”
We share the senator’s belief that privatization of the VA is a “bad, bad idea.”
And yet there are those in the Trump administration who seem willing to do whatever is necessary to accomplish their goal. They orchestrated the firing of Shulkin, who was popular with veterans groups and enjoyed strong support within the department, and they can be expected to use their political influence to come up with a nominee who shares their beliefs.
That’s why Sen. Brown’s appearance in Youngstown was noteworthy. The Senate’s power of “advise and consent” with regard to President Trump’s nominee for secretary of the VA will be put to the test.
Given Jackson’s withdrawal from consideration, the White House can be expected to pressure Republican senators to rubber stamp the nomination.
Veterans, who have the most to lose, should launch an aggressive lobbying effort in the Senate with this underlying message: Privatization of the VA is a nonstarter.