Privatize the VA? Never!

David Shulkin isn’t going quietly away from his job as secretary of veterans affairs. Indeed, he is firing back, claiming it “shouldn’t be this hard to serve your country.”

What’s more, he is telling the world that one of the reasons Donald Trump fired him is because he resisted efforts to privatize the nation’s second-largest federal agency.

Oh, my! How many ways can I implore the government to avoid privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs? Let me start with this: Don’t even think about it!

There are roughly 20 million American veterans alive today. Many of them rely on the VA for services for which they are owed. By the government!

I get that many vets who live in rural communities have difficulty at times obtaining medical care from the VA; they live long distances from the nearest VA clinic. Thus, comes some of the impetus to privatize medical care and other services currently provided by the VA.

As Shulkin wrote in the New York Times: The private sector, already struggling to provide adequate access to care in many communities, is ill-prepared to handle the number and complexity of patients that would come from closing or downsizing V.A. hospitals and clinics, particularly when it involves the mental health needs of people scarred by the horrors of war. 

I now will say this another way: The government that sent young men and women to potentially die in service to their country owes them the best care possible. Period! A government that accepted these Americans’ voluntary enlistment or drafted them for service must remain responsible for their health care.

I happen to be one of those Americans who once wore the uniform in service to the country. I am enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs health care program administered in Amarillo, Texas. I visit the Thomas E. Creek VA Medical Center for routine medical checkups.

What’s more, I do not consider it a “free” medical service; I consider it a “pre-paid” service that I earned by giving my country two years of my life. My country sent me into a war zone in the spring of 1969. I returned home and finished my tour of duty.

I will not accept the idea that the government that sent me to war now can hand over medical care to a private provider. I disagree with this form of privatization the way I disagree with private prison management. A government that spends money to arrest, charge, try and convict a criminal should also be responsible for housing that criminal — for the rest of his or her life if necessary.

The VA serves men and women who gave plenty in service to their government. It now falls on the government to repay that service by caring for these individuals — and to provide care in the most competent manner possible.

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