We have made a promise to our veterans that in exchange for risking their lives to defend our democracy, we will take care of them.
THE recent removal of David Shulkin as head of Veterans Affairs reveals an even more troubling revelation about what’s really going on inside President Donald Trump’s administration.
First came the initial reports of Shulkin’s questionable summer trip to Europe. That was quickly eclipsed after Shulkin clashed with the Trump administration over efforts to reform the VA, an agency responsible for the care of 20 million military veterans.
In short order, out went Shulkin and in came Ronny Jackson, the White House physician with no experience managing a bureaucracy the size of the VA. By Thursday, Jackson bowed out, having withdrawn his name from consideration in the wake of allegations about overprescribing drugs and poor leadership.
Whoever Trump names next, it’s clear his administration will likely continue to try to turn over more and more VA functions to the private sector. But turning over the health care of these vets offers no advantages and would only overwhelm our struggling private health-care system.
Since colonial days, we have provided services to war veterans through a variety of government agencies and policies. The culmination of these efforts was the elevation of the then Veterans Administration to a Cabinet-level status in 1989 and renamed the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Veterans Health Administration — the largest of the three divisions that comprise the VA — oversees a vast network of hospitals and outpatient clinics to accommodate a diverse veteran population.
The debate over the proper function of government rages on now as it has throughout our history. If we were to outsource veteran medical services to the private, for-profit sector, it would fragment health care that is now consolidated within the VA system and shift the focus from simply caring for veterans to making a profit off veterans’ care.
Instead of a veteran going to a VA clinic or hospital where all services are coordinated, they would be on their own to find and manage each of the services they require.
There are and will be continuing challenges to manage a huge organization like the VA. High-profile scandals about abuse of funds, long wait times for appointments and indifference are appalling reminders of the need for constant vigilance and congressional oversight. Maintaining the distinction between the proper function of public and private business is crucial to our democratic process and must be vigorously debated and refined.
The VA has demonstrated an overall willingness and ability to ensure the welfare of our veterans despite multiple challenges. If veterans’ health-care services are parceled out to private health care, there will be a dilution of care simply because an individual doctor, clinic or hospital does not have the expertise or focus to determine the unique needs of veterans.
The historic precedence of a grateful nation providing assistance to war veterans is an integral part of our national consciousness. We have made a promise to veterans that in exchange for risking their lives to defend our democracy, we will take care of them. By maintaining a viable, government-run and veteran-focused system such as the VA, we keep our promise to those who have served.