Every year, Veterans Day is a big deal at the Veterans Affairs Community Living Center in Miles City, Montana. The VA nursing home hosts the annual Re-pinning Ceremony for veterans who live there to remind them that they are not forgotten and that their service is appreciated.
Escorted by family members, friends, or staff, the veterans are re-pinned with military medals they received during their service for their country. The medals are presented to them by the commanders of the local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. A VA chaplain then gives a prayer and shares each veteran’s story of service. The nursing home band then plays music from each branch of the military, followed by a roll call for members of the nursing home who passed away. It’s a great way to honor our veterans.
But that’s only for Veterans Day. For the rest of the year, the nursing home is simply these veterans’ home. For some, it’s their temporary home while they receive a medical treatment. For others, it’s their permanent home where they spend the rest of their lives. They get to decorate their own room, bring a pet, receive visitors. They connect with fellow veterans, share memories, and heal the wounds of war.
But for some VA administrators, this nursing home is just a concrete structure that could be disposed of anytime. In fact, they already put in motion a process to close it down and move the in-house clinic elsewhere. They also want to reduce hours at three other clinics under the Montana VA healthcare system, and potentially shut down another clinic in nearby Wyoming.
A larger plan to privatize the VA
Cutting services and starving the VA is part of a larger plan to privatize the agency and send veterans to for-profit private medical facilities. The Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal would give the VA an increase of $4.4 billion, but $3.5 billion of that would go to the Choice privatization program.
Montana currently has one of the highest veterans per capita rates in the country, and any loss of clinical hours and facilities will have a lasting impact on those seeking care.
“There are more than 49,000 vacancies at the VA right now. More than 16 percent of all facilities are over-capacity. And instead of focusing on increasing access to care for veterans, officials are looking to starve the agency further by closing the veterans nursing home in Miles City and cutting back hours at the outpatient facilities in Glendive, Glasgow and Hamilton,” said AFGE District 11 National Vice President Gerald Swanke, who himself is a Gulf War veteran. “While lines are growing and more veterans enter the VA system, we must ensure that we’re investing in the only healthcare tailored to their unique needs, not find more ways to hinder access.”
“The VA has made major strides the last few years as they have prioritized opening new facilities, increasing clinical hours, and hiring the necessary professionals we need to properly care for those who have borne the battle,” said Kate Haegele, president of AFGE Local 3570 which represents VA employees in Montana. “We cannot let those gains be lost as officials at the agency take away the access our veterans so desperately need. It will only make them wait longer at private, for-profit medical centers ill-equipped to care for the unique needs of our veterans.”