Congress Must Decide: Profits or People?

Categories: VA , The Insider

The House Veterans Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on Sept. 7 to discuss potentially shutting down Veterans Affairs hospitals and sending our wounded warriors to for-profit, private hospitals.  

The hearing, “From Tumult to Transformation: The Commission on Care and the Future of the VA Healthcare System” will discuss the recommendations of the Commission on Care.  

The Commission on Care was a group of political appointees tasked with developing recommendations for improving veterans’ health care. Despite its gentle name, several of the commission’s members are high-level, private hospital executives who stand to profit from privatization. One is openly on the payroll of the Koch Brothers-funded Concerned Veterans for America  a group that pretends to be a veterans service organization but is really just concerned with advancing their extreme anti-government political agenda. 

While they've secretly plotted a strategy to privatize the VA for good, award winning journalist and author Suzanne Gordon has been exposing their misdeeds in the American Prospect. 

She urges members of Congress to review independent reports that “challenge the continual drumbeat of negative and often unfair coverage and congressional criticism of the [Veterans Health Administration].” 

If you care about the future of the VA, this article is a must-read. Here are seven key points from Gordon's article that Congress should remember: 

1. There is no system-wide crisis on access to care

According to a report from the RAND Corporation, a non-profit research organization, while there were differences in how hospitals provide care to veterans, researchers “did not find evidence of a system-wide crisis in access to VA care.”  But they did find that...

2. Congress is the barrier to VA’s improvement

RAND researchers found that “inflexibility in budgeting stem[med] from the congressional appropriation process” and Congress’ Veterans Choice Program, which encourages veterans to use private-sector hospitals, “further complicated the situation and resulted in confusion among veterans, VA employees, and non-VA providers.” 

3. VA has vastly improved its care

The Joint Commission, a highly respected independent organization that accredits and certifies health care organizations in the country, conducted surprise inspections at VA hospitals across the country and found improvements in access, timeliness, safety, staffing, leadership, and coordination of care. 

4. Psychologists and social worker associations oppose privatizing VA

Several associations representing psychologists and social workers have issued a policy brief opposing the Commission on Care’s proposal to ultimately send up to 60% of veterans to for-profit private hospitals. The American Prospect was told by the American Psychological Association (APA), for example, that they are “opposed to the primary recommendation of the Commission on Care’s report, which we feel would in effect disassemble one of the most successful, innovative features of current VA care: the primary care/mental care integrated approach.” 

5. VA hospitals are equal or superior to private hospitals

Gordon noted that every report on VA health care over the past two years has shown that VA hospitals provide equal or better care to private hospitals and have made significant improvements. 

“But instead of lauding the VHA for its progress and working to sustain the system, federal lawmakers and critics are quick to jump on any hint of a glitch and lambast the VHA for not changing more rapidly. 

Suzanne Gordon
The American Prospect

6. Congress needs to fully fund the VA

Doctor shortages have resulted in long waits to get an appointment. If Congress is serious about improving the VA, it needs to adequately fund the VA so that it could attract the best and brightest and offer them salaries competitive with those in the private sector.   

7. False narrative of a broken VA hurts the VA’s recruiting efforts

Some lawmakers and the news media have trumped up an overblown narrative of a VA broken beyond repair, which is far from the truth and doesn’t recognize the fact that the VA is actually a global leader in so many fields, such as mental health, primary and geriatric care, and reducing opioid use. 

“That overwrought story discouraged nurse practitioners, social workers, psychologists, and other professionals from working at the VHA,” Gordon reported.  

The Bottom Line: 

VA hospitals have consistently outperformed for-profit private hospitals, and veterans know it. According to a 2015 survey of 1,700 veterans conducted for the Disabled American Veterans, 87% of veterans believe their health care should come from the federal government and not private hospitals. Every major veterans service organization from the American Legion to the Paralyzed Veterans of America strongly oppose privatizing the VA. 

But the Commission on Care refused to consider what veterans want when developing its proposals. Instead, it took many of its cues from private hospital executives and CVA. To them, it didn't matter that pushing costly privatization that would lower – not improve – the quality of care veterans receive.  

Alarmed by all the loose talk about closing VA hospitals, researchers and medical school professors recently came together to voice their concerns. They agreed that the VA is the leader in medical research and that 70% of U.S. physicians receive some professional training at a VA hospital. In fact, medical school students prefer to train in a VA hospital due to its advanced clinical training, technologies, and unique patient population. 

"This is a test for lawmakers," said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. "Will they look out for veterans? Or will they side with the special interests that have a financial stake in privatizing the VA? AFGE is committed to protecting this crown jewel of the American health care system, and I urge lawmakers to do the same.” 

Read the full article by Suzanne Gordon at the American Prospect and learn more about AFGE's efforts to protect veterans at www.afge.org. 


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