Trump’s “death by a thousand cuts” plan for the VA exposed
Veterans oppose cuts to, and privatization of, health care. | AP

WASHINGTON — The Government Employees (AFGE) blasted plans, from both a right-wing funded so-called veterans group and legislation unveiled by the Republican Trump administration, to subject the government’s health care system for veterans to “death by a thousand cuts.”

Despite describing himself as a big supporter and friend of America’s veterans it appears the president is slowly putting into effect the plans enemies of veterans’ health care have long held dear to their hearts. The People’s World published an expose by Roberta Wood on these issues. The story has won the International Communication Association’s highest award for journalism, the Max Steinbock award.

And the union, along with VoteVets, a 500,000-member veterans group, is on the offense against the schemes. Other traditional veterans’ organizations, such as the American Legion, will join in, AFGE President J. David Cox predicts.

At issue are three developments that could jeopardize the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system. The eventual goal of VA’s foes, Cox says, is dumping the nation’s vets into the private health care system. He calls it privatization in pursuit of profits.

In addition, the private system both does not coordinate care, while VA does, and private practitioners are often ill-equipped to treat multiple ailments connected with military service. The three developments are:

  • Trump administration legislation to let vets who live more than 40 miles away from a VA health center use government-paid vouchers to buy private health care for their conditions. That expands the current VA Choice program, established by the comprehensive VA overhaul bill Congress passed and then-President Barack Obama signed.

The Choice program “is a total dismantling, taking resources” – money – “out of the VA,” Cox told a telephone press conference on October 17. AFGE represents the largest number of VA workers, including medical professionals and support staff. National Nurses United represents thousands of VA’s registered nurses.

  • Lobbying by a front group for the ultra-right ultra-rich Koch brothers to privatize all veterans’ health care. The group, called the Concerned Veterans of America, also led the right wing lobbying last year for privatizing the 700-800 facility VA health care system in the wake of scandals where managers falsified treatment records and delayed vets’ appointments.
  • The VA’s decision, which did not need legislation, to seek to lay off 2,000 of its 5,000 customer service representatives nationwide. The CSRs interview veterans seeking benefits and treatment and make preliminary recommendations on those issues and linkages.

The agency wants to fire those CSRs who aren’t clearing cases quickly enough, even though paperwork for a case, documenting a vet’s disabilities and their connection to his or her military service, may stretch on for several feet. “These are complex claims,” Cox said.

“The privatizers and special interest groups have made it their mission to push our veterans out of the system,” said Cox, a retired VA psychiatric nurse in North Carolina. “Not because they would get better care” in private medicine “and not because vets want it, but because they want more profits. They’re attempting to dismantle the VA from the inside out.”

To combat that effort, the union is urging its members and the general public to speak up for VA health care, which independent studies – notably one by the Rand Corporation, a noted think-tank – show is superior to the private health care system. The union has already held pro-VA rallies nationwide and wants its members to lobby their lawmakers on the issue.

And the union is supporting pro-VA legislation by Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., to close the gap of 49,000 job vacancies – many of them doctors and nurses – in the VA, Cox and AFGE Legislative Director Thomas Kahn said. Sanders’ measure would allot $5 billion more for hiring and for infrastructure improvements. (story continues after video)

William Fischer, an Iraq War veteran and legislative director of VoteVets, used the “death by 1000 cuts” line in agreeing with Cox’s description of the threats to VA health care. But he ducked a question about whether his group would tell its members the fate of VA health care should be their “litmus test” in next year’s election.

Fischer also said he’s telling other progressive groups, especially backers of single-payer government-run national health care, the fate of the VA health care system is important to them, too. That’s because the VA system, in a smaller scale, is a single-payer federal-run nationwide health care system – without the private insurers in the way.

“The VA is a single provider that is popular” with two million veterans “and it works. The opponents know that if they can kill the VA, there will be no hope for single-payer at all.”

Video credit: VoteVets


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.