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

The right’s campaign to privatize VA care reaches a new level

In the last presidential election, Mitt Romney chose to float a provocative idea on Veterans’ Day. “Sometimes you wonder,” the Republican asked, “would there be some way to introduce some private sector competition” into veterans’ care?
A spokesperson for Veterans of Foreign Wars very quickly made clear the VFW “doesn’t support privatization of veterans’ health care,” and Romney backpedaled soon after, saying he was just kicking around a hypothetical scenario he didn’t intend to pursue.
The Rachel Maddow Show, 4/15/15, 9:36 PM ET

VA threatened by conservative privatization push

Rachel Maddow shows how right wing groups have worked to create a political environment where the previously radical idea of privatizing veterans’ health care can be presented as a viable alternative to the VA.
Rachel Maddow shows how right wing groups have worked to create a political environment where the previously radical idea of privatizing veterans’ health care can be presented as a viable alternative to the VA.
Four years later, however, as Rachel has noted on the show, some of the 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls have included at least partial VA privatization plans in their platforms – Ben Carson went so far as to say, “We don’t need a Department of Veterans Affairs” – despite the VA’s record of excellence, and the fact that the VA system as a whole “outperforms the rest of the health care system by just about every metric. Surveys also show that veterans give VA hospitals and clinics a higher customer satisfaction than patients give private-sector hospitals.”
It’s important to remember, though, that GOP proposals are part of a broader ideological campaign. In their latest issue, my friends at the Washington Monthly published a fascinating investigative report on the effort to privatize the VA launched by Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), a conservative outfit that’s received support from the Kochs’ operation.
Over the last year, every major GOP candidate with the exception of Donald Trump has made a pilgrimage to gatherings put on by Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), a group that had barely formed during the 2012 primary cycle. Whereas candidates back in the day were under pressure from the old-line veterans’ groups to promise undying support for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its nationwide network of hospitals and clinics, the opposite has been true this season. Candidates at CVA rallies have been competing with each other to badmouth the VA and its allegedly shabby treatment of veterans. And all have pledged fealty to the CVA’s goal of moving as many vets as possible out of the VA into private care. Even Trump is calling for more “choice.”
And while that’s certainly of interest when it comes to the 2016 campaign and the scope of the Republican agenda looking ahead, there’s an even more timely aspect to this that matters right now.
Paul Glastris, the Monthly’s editor in chief, had a piece in the Boston Globe yesterday about the debate over veterans’ care unfolding literally as I type.
This enormously important question will be discussed, and perhaps decided, at meetings on Monday and Tuesday of the Commission on Care. That’s a federally chartered group that is writing binding recommendations on the future of the VA.
If you’ve never heard of the Commission on Care, you’re not alone. Virtually none of the mainstream news outlets have covered its public hearings, which have been going on since the fall. […] It just so happens that four of the 15 members of the commission are executives with major medical centers that stand to gain from the outsourcing of veterans’ care. Another works for CVA, the Koch brothers-backed group, and yet another for an organization allied with CVA.
Last month these six commissioners plus a seventh were outed for writing a secret draft of the commission’s recommendations – in which they call for full privatization of the VA by 2035 – in possible violation of the Sunshine and Federal Advisory Committee Acts. This revelation infuriated the other commission members. It also led prominent veterans’ groups, including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, to send a letter to the commission chair slamming the secret draft and expressing their united opposition to privatizing the VA.
The Commission on Care was created by Congress in 2014. Both the White House and Congress choose its members, and I’ll let you guess which commissioners were chosen by which branch.
The members are wrapping up a two-day session today, with anti-privatization forces turning out to register their concerns. The commission’s final recommendations are expected to be released in June.
This is a big story that’s starting to get bigger. Watch this space.

Disclosure: I worked at the Washington Monthly from 2008 to 2011. It’s editor, Paul Glastris, is a friend of mine.