US military soldiers march during the Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11, 2014.
Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty

Campaign to privatize VA care moving in the wrong direction

After controversy erupted a couple of years ago surrounding the Veterans Administration, Congress created something called the Commission on Care, whose members would write recommendations that would help shape the future of the VA. For conservatives, this created an opportunity to pursue a long-sought goal: privatization of veterans’ care.
In April, the Washington Monthly’s Paul Glastris wrote a piece for the Boston Globe, noting that several conservative Commission members quietly put together a recommendation calling for full privatization of the VA by 2035, prompting renewed lobbying from prominent veterans’ groups, including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, strongly opposing the far-right push.
Last week, the veterans’ advocates prevailed. Glastris published a report on the end of the fight, at least for now.
On Wednesday, the Commission released its final report. To the surprise of most observers, the commission rejected privatization as the solution. While detailing a host of serious failings with the VA, the report notes that “care delivered by VA is in many ways comparable or better in clinical quality to that generally available in the private sector.” It concludes that the new Choice Program was “flawed” in both its design and execution, adding that “the program has aggravated wait times and frustrated veterans, private-sector health care providers participating in networks, and V.H.A. alike.”
Rather than wholesale outsourcing, the report recommends addressing issues of access by “standing up integrated veteran-centric, community-based delivery networks,” a plan roughly similar to the one Hillary Clinton had called for.
The editorial board of the New York Times added, “The V.A. is troubled, no question. But the commission properly stops short of recommending a solution dear to ideologues on the right, which is to dismantle one of the largest bureaucracies in American government – one with a critically important mission – and hand the wreckage to the private sector.”
The editorial’s reference to “ideologues on the right” was not a throwaway line. Congressional Republicans appointed several members to the Commission on Care with very conservative backgrounds, including one who works for Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), a conservative outfit that’s received support from the Koch brothers’ operation.
The right saw this as an important opportunity, but in this case, conservatives failed. Glastris called it a “stunning defeat of conservative anti-government ideology and … an important victory for evidence-based good government.”
Disclosure: I worked at the Washington Monthly from 2008 to 2011. Paul Glastris, its editor, is a friend of mine.