WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees thanks Reps. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, Salud Carbajal and Ted Lieu of California, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, and Anthony Brown of Maryland, for speaking out against the secretive plan by VA Secretary David Shulkin to merge TRICARE with the VA’s Choice program.
Yesterday, those five veterans serving in Congress wrote to Secretary Shulkin in response to his closed-door proposal to replace care provided directly by the VA with a program merging the failing Choice contract care program with the military’s TRICARE system that also utilizes private, for-profit health care.
In their letter the Representatives raised concerns about the “radical shift in policy” that, “could undermine care for veterans, increase their medical costs and dramatically expand the federal government’s reliance on the private sector to meet the unique needs of men and women who served our nation in uniform.”
In response, AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. issued the following statement:
“Thank you to Reps. Gallego, Carbajal, Lieu, Peterson, and Brown for their service to this country in uniform, and for speaking out against the newest privatization proposal by the Secretary. This latest attempt to dismantle the nation’s largest and most important health care system is a disgrace to the men and women who have served this country. It’s selling out veterans and the care they deserve.
“Veterans choose the VA because it combines the highest quality, with a unique level of specialization and integration of care, for the community of veterans – most of whom have unique needs. TRICARE serves active duty military, their families, and a small cohort of other users, and is generally geared toward younger and healthier veterans. The men and women who have borne the battle often have complex medical and mental health care needs requiring the highly specialized care provided by the VA.
“Forcing veterans in need of specific care and the expertise of the VA’s specially-trained doctors, nurses, and service providers into uncoordinated care in the private sector – or under TRICARE – is a non-starter. The private, for-profit sector cannot duplicate the level of services veterans have come to expect from the VA. Merging Choice with TRICARE forces veterans seeking care to wait at the back of the line, and allows private corporations to profit off of our nation’s heroes, while depriving them of the care they deserve.
“Most importantly, this plan is not what veterans want.
“Studies performed by veterans’ service organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars have shown conclusively that veterans want their VA, and need their VA. Last month at a House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing on the Choice program, representatives from Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Got Your Six, and the VFW all emphasized that veterans’ first choice for care is the VA, and any new legislation must recognize and support the VA, not undermine it.
“It’s clear why this plan by the Secretary has been kept under wraps. They know that it’s the opposite of what veterans want. It’s shameful that leaders who are charged with putting veterans’ needs first are instead concocting deals in the backroom that enrich donors at the expense of veterans.
“If the Secretary were interested in improving the care veterans receive he would stop trying to outsource to for-profit providers, and instead focus on filling the more than 49,000 vacancies plaguing the VA nationwide. The men and women who served our country were promised a health care system that fulfills their needs, not a voucher to go stand in the back of the line at private providers ill-equipped to treat them.
“AFGE represents 250,000 working people at the Department of Veterans Affairs – more than one third of whom are veterans themselves. They will not stop fighting to make sure they have the resources they need to care for their fellow veterans. And they’ll never stop fighting to preserve the health care system that veterans want and deserve.”