Congress aims to privatize the VA
By Buzz Davis
We have over 21 million veterans in America. We did our service during war and peace. For those of us who were fortunate to live through our service, many of us have injuries and disabilities that plague us forever. Some of us are grievously disabled– fortunately most of us are not.
Over nine million veterans are enrolled in Veterans Administration (VA) health care though only six million of us actually use it. The VA, with 300,000 workers, is the largest single payer/single provider heath care system in the nation. It is one of the most highly rated care systems in the nation with over 1,700 hospitals and clinics and a proposed 2015 budget of $163.9 billion with $59.1 billion of that going to VA health care.
Our Congress is working right now to privatize the VA.
They want to force the VA to send vets to private sector doctors. Medical costs are much higher in the private sector and many private sector doctors know little about healing wounded vets– think PTSD and Agent Orange. Nearly all U.S. House and Senate members voted for privatization bills in Congress.
Vets and citizens, we have three problems:
–Unending Wars Resolving Nothing. Congress and Presidents are very good at starting illegal wars of aggression but they are poor at ending wars. Afghanistan and Iraq are fiascoes of massive destruction and death. We have spent over $1.5 trillion to destroy those countries. We should have been building public schools and improving education with that money.
Nearly 7,000 Americans have died along with over a million Afghans and Iraqis, hundreds of thousands have been wounded and millions are homeless. And the wars go on – settling nothing.
We in Veterans for Peace say Heal the Wounded–- stop the killing– stop the wars.
–Care for Wounded/Injured Vets is Very Expensive. The 2.5 million men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost us over a $1 trillion over their lifetimes for health care and disability payments. On top of this, we add trillions more for our living Vietnam, Korea, WWII and other vets.
Just how much longer will we put young men and women into the meat grinder of war and still be able to afford their care when they return home?
President Obama and the Congress propose spending $59.1 billion for VA health care in 2015. That is only half of what is needed. In 1993 the VA served two million vets and that cost, in inflation adjusted dollars, was $25.2 billion. Today the VA serves 9.1 million vets– 4.55 times more vets. This means to serve the vets of today as we did in 1993 we should be spending $114.7 billion. The VA health care budget is $59.1billion. The VA is $55.6 billion short and that is for just one year.
Congress members talk big about every vet is a hero. But when it comes to paying the piper they are nowhere in sight– that goes for both Republicans and Democrats.
Conclusion: Congress is shorting for veterans health care today by over $55 billion even though VA care is about a third cheaper than the private sector.
–Instead of Adequately Funding the VA, Congress Is Calling for privatizing VA Health Care– Making Health Care Even More Expensive. The Wall Streeters and insurance/hospital CEOs look at the VA and say, “let’s force the VA to contract out medical care to our private sector health care systems– we’ll make a bundle.”
Top VA managers, who lied to VA headquarters and did not provide the necessary health care to over 125,000 vets, should be fired and prosecuted for lying. These vets comprise what is called the “appointment wait time” crisis. Six million vets are enrolled with the VA and use VA for health care. About two percent of these vets, 125,000, need to get medical care like now. The new VA bosses have contacted nearly all these vets to say, “you can have a prompt appointment at the VA or you can go to a private doctor. We pay for it all. What do you want to do?” This is the major problem the VA faces: the poor handling of two percent of the vets.
A secondary problem is that about 10 percent of the vets, 600,000, are getting slow appointments, i.e., appointments over 30 days into the future. The VA is massively understaffed and staff vacancies are being held open due to lack of funding. As stated, the VA is underfunded by $55.6 billion a year. Yet the majority of VA patients rank VA care as satisfactory and the VA ranks, when compared to private sector hospitals and clinics, as one of the top quality systems in the nation.
Point: The VA is doing pretty well for 90 percent of all the vets in satisfaction and quality even though it is seriously understaffed/underfunded by Congress.
But this is not the message you hear: Congressional privatizers are painting all the VA as a mess and calling for privatizing VA care to solve the problem. They’re like the auto mechanic with one tool– a hammer. The repairs will cost you a fortune.
How are they privatizing the VA? Both the House and Senate nearly unanimously, passed bills to resolve the problem. A Conference Committee on HR 3230 is now trying to find a compromise between the two bills, enact that into law and get it signed by President Obama. The Senate version contains good things but still contains privatization. The House bill calls for massive privatization of the VA.
Via some poison pills placed in these bills, the VA may be forced to contract out 36 percent or more of all its care to the private sector while draining the VA of the money it needs to hire staff. Greater staffing shortages will lead to a downward spiral for quality care in the VA, resulting in more Congressional cries for more privatization.
The private care cost per vet may be 20 or 30 percent higher than the VA cost per vet due to higher paid private doctors and nurses, overhead for monstrous CEO pay, thousands of additional insurance clerks, Taj Mahal executive buildings, marketing, profits, etc.
We, the taxpayers, will be ripped off. And our veterans will pay dearly for lower quality care and in out of pocket charges.
Stand up for millions of vets and yourself now. Contact your U.S. House and Senate members. Give them a four-word message: Don’t Privatize the VA.
Then sign the Hands Off Our VA petition at: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/hands-off-our-va-health-care-better-not-privatize.
~ Buzz Davis, of Stoughton, Wisconsin is a disabled veteran, a member of Veterans for Peace and a former VISTA volunteer, U.S. Army officer, elected official, union organizer and state government planner.