2 New Bills, 6 New Ways Privatizers Want to Slash and Burn VA Hospitals

House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Phil Roe, a Republican member of Congress from Tennessee, is leading an effort to yet again shut down Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and send veterans to for-profit health care providers.

Roe’s bill, H.R. 4243 – the Veterans Affairs Asset and Infrastructure Review Act of 2017, would help accelerate the takeover of the VA by big corporations. It has been nicknamed a BRAC bill because it seeks to close VA facilities that gives even more authority to unelected officials to determine the fate of the VA than the military’s notorious Base Realignment and Closures that often destroy local communities and economies.

On the Senate side, The Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017 was recently passed by the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, opening even more avenues to privatization. In a letter to Committee Democrats last week protesting the bill, AFGE Legislative Director Tom Kahn said the Caring for Our Veterans Act, “would shift veterans’ primary care and mental health care to the private sector,” and “almost completely ignores the pressing need for additional resources for the VA to fix the short staffing and infrastructure deficiencies that led to what was supposed to be temporary contracting out in the first place.”

The bill, if enacted, would give the Choice program a $4 billion slush fund, while only allotting $1 billion for VA care. It has been met with fierce opposition already from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont who wants funding parity between Choice and VA care, but needs more support.

Here’s how wealthy private-hospital CEOs and their allies plan to hijack our country’s veterans’ health care system in broad daylight:

House Bill: Veterans Affairs Asset and Infrastructure Review Act of 2017

1. The bill places every decision about the future of the VA health care system in the hands of unelected officials handpicked by pro-privatization President Trump.

This is worse than the DoD BRAC process because every VA facility would be subjected to a commission’s authority, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, domiciliary for homeless veterans, and Vet Centers that provide readjustment counseling for returning veterans. The bill gives the commission the final say over which VA facilities to shut, build, and repair. In effect, the privatizers will be given free rein to direct our tax dollars to their own pockets whenever and wherever they choose.

2. Veterans, their families, constituents, and employees have no say in the decisions that uproot their lives.

If this bill becomes law, members of Congress will be stripped of its power to stop these closures. They will lose their ability to fight for the interests of veterans and their constituents in their communities who cherish and depend on their medical centers either for services, employment, or both. One in three veterans work for the VA, and many receive care at the hospitals in which they work. Shutting down these hospitals will uproot their lives and damage local communities, and they can’t do anything about it.

3. The bill provides a whopping $2.1 billion to private hospitals but gives only $500 million to the VA to improve its facilities.

The bill’s intention is clear: shut down VA hospitals and send veterans to for-profit hospitals as much as possible. By refusing to properly maintain VA facilities, more VA hospitals will fall apart, giving the privatizers an excuse to close them and send more veterans to private hospitals. Veterans will have no choice but to receive care at these for-profit hospitals that are not specialized in veterans’ illnesses and conditions.

Senate Bill: Caring for Our Veterans Act of 2017

1. Veterans would be sent to costly and unaccountable for-profit providers who have neither experience nor expertise in treating the uniquely complex emotional and medical needs of veterans.

Veterans did not risk life and limb defending this country to come home to find the VA health care system battered and stripped of its core components. They did so knowing that the VA would be here when they got home to care for them. Now though, Congressional leaders want to push veterans out of the VA – against the wishes of 92% of those surveyed – and stick them at the back of the line at private, for-profit providers.

2. The bill almost completely ignores the pressing need for additional resources for the VA to fix the short staffing and infrastructure deficiencies that led to what was supposed to be temporary contracting out in the first place.

When the 2014 waitlist crisis was first brought to light by AFGE whistleblowers, it was apparent that the issue stemmed from a lack of resources. In response, between 2014 – 2016, the VA hired 14,000 more working people and opened up 3.9 million square feet of additional clinical space. The dividends were tremendous. There was an 87% decrease in the disability compensation and pensions claims backlog, there were 20 million additional provider hours of care, and a 1.6 million increase in the number of patients seen in one year. If the VA could focus on filling the 49,000 vacancies currently plaguing the system, many more veterans would receive quicker access to the only health care system tailored to their needs.

3. This bill wants to force more veterans into private, for-profit care without creating accountability for it. This is already a problem for veterans who are seeing providers unfamiliar with veterans’ unique needs, and it will only get worse.

If this bill were to become law the VA would be evaluated based on the quality and timeliness of health care delivered to veterans, and their satisfaction with the care they receive at the VA, but non-VA care used by veterans would not be subject to these standards.Congress must not establish a two-tiered system of care for our veterans whereby the standards are not evenly applied across the board. Not holding non-VA providers accountable is a disservice to veterans and to the taxpayers who are footing the bill for this permanent program.

Veterans deserve better

A coalition of 22 labor organizations led by AFGE co-signed a letter delivered to Congress urging members to reject the bill. The organizations represent veterans in both government and the private sector.

Is your legislator a co-sponsor of either of these bad bills? Check it here.


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