WASHINGTON – Before Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump address military families and veterans at Wednesday night’s forum hosted by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, here are 10 things about veterans’ health care to keep in mind, as compiled by the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 220,000 federal employees throughout the Department of Veterans Affairs:
1. The VA tops the private sector in quality and service. The VA outperforms the private sector by more than 30% in delivering mental health care, and veterans get appointments with their primary care doctors three times faster than patients outside the VA.
2. More veterans are receiving care. Since 2014, the VA has hired nearly 14,000 additional health care workers and opened an additional 3.9 million square feet of clinical space – resulting in a 10% increase in direct patient care.
3. Wait times have been dramatically reduced. Last year, the VA completed 97% of appointments within 30 days of either the clinically indicated or veterans’ preferred date – an increase of 1.4 million over fiscal 2014.
4. Most veterans support the current VA system. Two-thirds of veterans oppose privatizing VA hospital programs and services, and 80% want their health care to be fully paid for by the government – not through vouchers that may not cover all of their costs.
5. Hillary Clinton will strengthen the VA. The daughter of a veteran, Secretary Clinton understands that veterans have unique health care needs that can only be met by trained VA providers and has promised to strengthen the VA, not privatize it.
6. Donald Trump would dismantle the VA. Trump, who received five draft deferrals to avoid serving in the Vietnam War, has vowed to privatize the VA health care system – over the objections of nearly all veterans’ advocates.
7. The Commission on Care’s recommendations would dismantle the integrated VA health care system. Health care professionals and employee groups say dismantling the VA’s integrated health care delivery system would erode veterans’ health care and be financially unsustainable.
8. Commissioner Michael Blecker strongly condemned the group’s report. A veteran himself, Blecker said the Commission’s proposal would push veterans toward lower quality health care options and threaten the survival of the veteran-centered system that most veterans prefer.
9. Gutting employee rights won’t improve veterans’ health care. Proposed “accountability bills” by Rep. Jeff Miller and Sen. Marco Rubio would give managers more authority to fire frontline employees without following federal due process laws. These are the same managers who manipulated wait time reports in the first place, and the same frontline employees who blew the whistle on that activity. A bipartisan Veterans First Act, on the other hand, would ensure bad employees are held accountable without trampling on whistleblower protections and employee rights.
10. AFGE will be live tweeting the forum. Follow AFGE’s Twitter feed and use the hashtag #IAVAForum for live reaction to the IAVA Commander-in-Chief town hall, and visit AFGE’s veterans action center for the latest news and updates.