WASHINGTON – Medical experts, veterans service organizations, and leading academics came together in Washington for today’s “Keeping the Promise: Summit on VA Health Care” to explore the future of veterans’ health care and how the VA can continue to improve access and quality of care.
The conference, co-hosted by the Roosevelt Institute and the Union Veterans Council, shared the perspectives of leading veterans’ care experts to discuss causes of the 2014 waitlist scandal, challenges and opportunities for veterans using the system, innovative treatments emerging from the system, and the potentially devastating impact of proposals that would dismantle the VA health care system and force veterans to seek care on their own. Panelists also discussed VA’s role in training doctors and other health care providers and conducting cutting edge research and other health care providers and delved into some of the lesser-known services the VA provides to veterans and our communities, such as telehealth services, legal services for veterans, and disaster responses that provide services to the general public.
“One of the areas that is so important to our mission at VA that people don’t think a lot about is our responsibility for emergency preparedness,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin. “Within hours after Orlando, we dispatched our mobile med centers immediately on-site. Since the tragic event in Orlando our VA clinicians, our mental health professionals have counseled over 800 family members of people who suffered in that tragedy.”
The idea of dismantling the VA health care system and shuttering all VA clinics and hospitals has received a great deal of attention following the revelations of long waits for appointments in 2014, and more so since the Congressionally-mandated Commission on Care issued its highly-controversial “strawman proposal” that called for wholesale privatization of the system. The panel spent considerable time describing the risks and inadvisability of such a reckless move. For veterans’ service organization representatives like Sherman Gillums, Executive Director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Garry Augustine, Executive Director of Disabled American Veterans, eliminating the VA health care network their members rely on amounts to breaking our nation’s promise to those who have borne the battle.
“We’re not opposed to choice. But don’t give someone a card and say ‘Here, thanks for your service. Good luck,” said Augustine. Recounting his experience recovering from an injury that resulted in partial paralysis, Gillums challenged elected leaders to look at the vital importance of the VA through the eyes of veterans like him, not political advisors and sensationalist writers: “There are people in your inner circle who are going to tell you that privatizing the VA is the answer. All I ask is that you ask them two questions: the first one is have you received care in a VA medical center in the last 5 years? Or is your opinion informed by a secondhand perspective. The second question will be, who will be responsible for monitoring health care access quality in the private sector when it goes wrong without Title 38 protections to include investigation of waitlists, other access issues, and medical malpractice cases?”
J. David Cox, Chair of the AFL-CIO Union Veterans Council and President of the nation’s largest VA employees union, the American Federation of Government Employees, emphasized the importance of looking at the objective facts of how well the VA is delivering for veterans, and resisting the impulse to let fleeting headlines define an entire system.
“I hope everyone who was able to attend or listen in on the conference came away knowing that the VA is right for veterans,” Cox said. “There has been a lot of negativity surrounding the VA as we prepare for the Commission on Care’s final report, but I hope a lot of those untruths were dispelled today and people came away knowing what we’ve known all along: The VA offers the best health care option for our veterans, and we cannot allow it to be auctioned off to the lowest bidder.”
Video from today's summit will be available upon request.
Complete List of Speakers:
Medical Experts Panel:
Veterans' Perspective Panel: