Amid reports that President-elect Donald Trump may be considering privatizing the Department of Veterans Affairs to fix its unquestionably broken system, former presidential candidate and avowed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) is warning Trump against the move, calling it an insult to veterans.
Sanders, a former chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, reportedly insinuated in a statement that the plan to privatize the VA might destroy it, and said Trump would face considerable opposition if he followed through on that course of action. He also seemed to call out the Koch Brothers and their "extreme right-wing, anti-government ideology" as potentially behind the plan
“Privatizing the VA would be an insult to the more than 22 million veterans who risked their lives to defend our country and it would significantly lower the quality of health care they receive. Our goal, shared by The American Legion and other major veterans’ organizations, must be to improve the VA, not destroy it. When men and women put their lives on the line to defend us, the president must listen to them, not to the Koch brothers and their extreme right-wing, anti-government ideology. We will vigorously oppose any and all efforts to privatize the VA."
Trump is in the process of considering who he wants to lead the VA. Reports indicate his top pick, Guatemalan businessman and Marine and Navy veteran Luis Quinonez, formally withdrew his name from consideration on Saturday. That leaves Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, a former Air Force surgeon who turned down President Barack Obama for the same job in 2014, the likely candidate. However, rumors late Saturday pointed to Cosgrove also withdrawing from consideration.
Whoever Trump ultimately chooses, they will be tasked with overhauling a huge bureaucracy that has come under attack for massive wait lines that led some veterans with chronic problems to die while waiting for health care. Following reports that VA officials were deliberately covering up the problems with wait times and veterans' lack of care, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in May of 2014.
Trump, according to the Wall Street Journal quoting a transition team official, wants to help cut down on lines by allowing veterans the option to bypass the VA altogether if they meet the criteria to do so. Some veterans groups, including the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America and Paralyzed Veterans of America, are not in favor of the move. From the WSJ:
Mr. Trump is considering changing the department to allow some veterans to bypass the VA heath-care system completely and get care exclusively from private-sector hospitals and clinics, the official said. It is an option that could give veterans full choice over their health care, but which many veterans groups argue is the first step toward privatization and one that will reduce the quality of health care over the long term.
Pushback to the plan relates to a feeling by some that a private-care option without VA oversight may not be able to address the specific problems veterans face after discharge from service.
Sanders' concerns seem to relate more to the fact that some of Trump's choices to lead the VA have ties to Concerned Veterans for America, a group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers and that supports privatization, according to The Washington Post. In his statement, Sanders says Trump should listen to veterans groups' concerns over backers like the Koch Brothers.
Privatization is a “slap in the face to what we stand for,” American Legion Executive Director Verna Jones told the Trump transition team earlier this month.