What 6 Veterans Think About Closing VA Hospitals

Categories: VA, Privatization, The Insider

If you want to know how veterans feel about getting their care at private hospitals instead of at the Department of Veterans Affairs, all you have to do is ask them. 

“Veterans deserve and need different care than civilians do, and that’s why these VA hospitals are here,” Vietnam veteran Steve Gulick recently told The Michigan Daily. 

Gulick was participating in a picket outside the Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs Hospital in Michigan to protest plans to privatize veterans’ health care and shut down VA hospitals and medical centers. Over the past two weeks, veterans joined with VA employees and advocates in over 40 pickets across the country in support of the VA health care system. 

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The Commission on Care, a group that was created by Congress to recommend ways of improving veterans’ health care, released a final report on July 6 that calls for shutting down some VA medical centers and sending more veterans to for-profit providers for their care. The Commission included four high-level private hospital executives who would profit from privatization and not a single mainstream veterans service organization.  

That doesn’t sit well with veterans like Daniel Hines, who was picketing outside the Salam VA Medical Center near Roanoke, Virginia. 

“I’m a disabled veteran so this is where I come for all of my needs – emergency room, neurology, my primary care,” Hines told WFXR. “This is my VA medical center. I’ve received treatment here since 2007. I know my doctors and nurses very well and they know me.” 

David Traver, a veteran from Anchorage, Alaska, says there’s a reassuring consistency that comes from receiving care at VA hospitals that would be lost if he had to shop for care in the private sector. 

“I don’t want to be sent to one person one month and then a different person the next. Where’s the continuity of care? As a veteran I had the same provider from 1995 until just a year and a half ago. You can’t beat that,” Traver told KTBY while picketing outside the Alaska VA Healthcare System. “That provider knew everything about me. That’s what the veterans want, that’s what I want as a veteran.” 

Indeed, 87% of veterans believe their health care should come from the federal government and not private hospitals, according to a survey of 1,700 veterans conducted for the Disabled American Veterans last year. 

Unfortunately, the Commission on Care didn’t adequately consider what veterans want when debating its proposals, instead taking many of its cues from the Koch Brothers and a sham “veterans” group that has been pushing costly privatization that would lower – not improve – the quality of care veterans receive. It’s a slight that rubs veteran Derrick Barker the wrong way. 

“That makes me feel left out. You know, as a veteran, it’s like you don’t have a voice,” Barker told KWTX while protesting outside the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System in Temple, Texas. 

Every major veterans’ group, including the American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and others, are unanimously opposed to any proposal that would privatize veterans’ health care and close hospitals. 

Veterans say they would not be able to get the same level of specialized care and treatment in the private sector. Iraq veteran Sidney Catus, who retired from the Army as a staff sergeant, says veterans have unique issues that only trained VA staff know how to handle.  

“I don't think I could get the same service in the private sector that I get here,” Catus told The Register-Herald while protesting outside the Beckley VA Medical Center in West Virginia.  

Sending veterans outside the VA health care system also would overwhelm private-sector hospitals and medical providers in many communities that already are struggling with shortages of primary care providers and other clinicians. The VA hospital in Asheville, N.C., treats 500,000 patients annually from across the southeast. U.S. Army veteran David Heim worries what would happen to those veterans if the VA hospital closed. 

“If you think about half a million VA visits to the Charles George VA Medical Center in a years’ time and incorporating that into the private health care system, it would overwhelm the system instantly,” Heim told WLOS while protesting outside the hospital.

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