For years, the push to privatize veteran healthcare has been a longstanding and persistent mission among certain politicians. In their most recent attempt, bills like the recently introduced Veterans’ HEALTH Act of 2023 are framed as a measure to enhance choice for veterans and improve access.
However, these proposals mask a concerning reality — they actually endorse the expansion of private, for-profit healthcare, which is a costlier approach that diminishes access to specialized care for our nation’s heroes.
As president of the American Federation of Government Employees National VA Council, representing more than 304,000 VA workers nationwide, one-third of whom are veterans themselves, I’m committed to opposing any initiatives that jeopardize the integrity and effectiveness of veteran care.
We can’t let politicians distract from the crucial goal of ensuring our veterans get easy access to top-notch healthcare services nationwide. Our veterans deserve more than just talk from lawmakers who supposedly have their back; they deserve a genuine commitment to their well-being, reflecting our deep gratitude and dedication to honoring their service and sacrifices.
Soaring costs and a significant decline in accessibility, especially for veterans in rural areas, are part of private care’s vast dangers. The existing private, for-profit community care program has already led to fragmentation of care, causing challenges in securing medical records from private providers and leading to redundant tests, which results in a waste of money and resources. Privatization erodes the VA’s ability to maintain control over the quality of care veterans receive, as community care providers lack the specialized expertise that VA providers possess in meeting our veterans’ unique needs.
Numerous studies have consistently underscored the superiority of VA care for veterans compared to private facilities. Veterans not only express a clear preference for the VA, with nearly 90 percent trusting the care they receive, but VA facilities have also demonstrated a marked increase in veterans’ survival rates. Members of Congress should champion legislation to expand access to the care veterans already prefer, not diminish it in the name of profit.
The ongoing push for privatization also raises legitimate concerns regarding the strain it may impose on VA medical facilities, particularly those in rural areas. This could translate to extended wait times and veterans traveling longer distances to access care. Privatization also carries a significant risk of diminishing the utilization of VA facilities, potentially leading to higher costs per veteran and, ultimately, the closure and consolidation of VA medical facilities.
The VA is swiftly approaching a critical juncture where nearly half of the available care for veterans is outsourced to private entities, and these proposed bills are poised to escalate this trend. VA Secretary Denis McDonough has expressed to Congress the pressing concern regarding the burgeoning and fiscally unsustainable expansion of the private “community care” program. Even he believes that enacting legislation such as the Veterans’ HEALTH Act will propel us further down this precarious path.
Instead of privatization, we need to modernize and expand the VA so that it can reach its full potential as the primary healthcare system designed exclusively for veterans. We should improve the quality and accessibility of care while ensuring that veterans receive specialized services that meet their individual needs. Through these changes, we can show our appreciation for our veterans by providing them with a top-tier healthcare system that reflects our gratitude for their service.
On behalf of my organization and the veterans we represent, I’m calling on Congress to listen to veterans and VA workers and reconsider its support for legislation like the Veterans’ HEALTH Act. A privatized VA driven by profit risks prioritizing financial gains over the well-being of the brave Americans who have served our nation.
We must protect the integrity of veteran care. Our veterans deserve nothing less than the exceptional support they have earned through their service and sacrifice.
Alma L. Lee is the president of the American Federation of Government Employees National Veterans Affairs Council, which represents 304,000 employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
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Author: Alma Lee, opinion contributor