The Department of Veterans Affairs is set to implement a new privatization program in June that will eventually lead to an irreversible dismantling of the VA health care system as more veterans are sent to for-profit doctors and more VA medical facilities are starved for resources. Our union is calling on the VA to stop the law’s implementation and for the VA to start over.
At an April 10 congressional hearing on the implementation of the VA MISSION Act, which President Trump signed into law in 2018, high-ranking VA officials defended the new authority to permanently expand its privatization program even though they were not able to guarantee that veterans will not be harmed by being sent to for-profit providers inferior to the VA.
In our statement for the record, our union remains strongly opposed to the law passed under pressure from corporate lobbying.
Here are our three main concerns about the new permanent privatization program:
1. Abandoning the federal government’s role in caring for veterans
According to VA’s own estimate, the new standards for accessing private care under the MISSION Act will allow the VA to send 39% of veterans to for-profit hospitals as opposed to 8% under current rules. This means that the VA will divert more resources to its privatization program and less resources to invest in VA facilities, workforce, and veterans-focused medical research.
There are 49,000 vacancies at the VA, and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie himself told Congress filling these positions is not this administration’s priority. That means VA hospitals will remain understaffed, so the administration has an excuse to send more veterans to for-profit doctors and close down more VA medical facilities. It’s outrageous that the VA leadership and pro-privatization politicians are breaking the country’s promise to take care of those who have borne the battle.
As one third of VA employees are themselves veterans, the VA should be focusing on hiring and investing in the VA workforce and infrastructure, not abdicating the federal government’s role and turning itself into a mere contract overseer.
2. Hurting veterans with poor quality of care from for-profit providers
While the VA set high standards for its hospitals and doctors to ensure quality care for veterans, it doesn’t have the same standards in place for for-profit providers. This opens the door for waste, fraud, and abuse, and veterans who use private care do so at their own risks with little recourse if something goes wrong.
One of the more disturbing aspects of this privatization program is how it allows veterans to use walk-in clinics that lack expertise in veterans’ issues for mental health services and other complex wounds of war that require VA’s unique expertise and integrated approach to care.
The VA is the national leader in integrating primary care and mental health, but the agency is sending veterans to walk-in clinics that aren’t likely to recognize veterans’ specific illnesses and can’t be held accountable.
3. The secretive rule writing process
While there are significant problems with the substance of the new law, the most obvious problem is the secretive nature of the rule writing process. For example, the new standards that allow the VA to send 39% of veterans to for-profit doctors were created behind closed doors without any input from congressional leadership, the veterans service organizations, or representatives of the front-line workers. This has made an already controversial issue even more controversial. Problems that are entirely foreseeable could have been mitigated if stakeholders had been permitted to participate in the drafting process.
VA needs to start over
None of the problems would happen if the VA would commit to building its internal capacity and fully staff and fund its own facilities. Our union’s top priority is restoring the VA itself to full capacity.
We also insist that the VA stop rushing to implement the MISSION Act and start over with more provisions in place to ensure the integrity of the program and more oversight of cost and quality.
The VA MISSION Act represents a truly massive change to the future of the VA, and its roll out should not be fast-tracked, and implementation should not proceed before critical data on market capacity, provider quality, and wait times are collected.