VA: ‘There is no effort underway to privatize VA’

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is fighting claims from fired VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, that the agency is moving toward privatizing veterans’ healthcare, issuing a press release calling such talk “completely false and a red herring designed to distract and avoid honest debate on the real issues."

After being fired from the post on March 28, Shulkin’s op-ed for the New York Times was published where he said he was pushed out by advocates for privatization appointed by the Trump administration who saw him as an obstacle “who had to be removed.” Shulkin himself is opposed to full privatization of the VA healthcare system, saying its “a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”

“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 VA hospitals and clinics, particularly when it involves the mental health needs of people scarred by the horrors of war,” Shulkin wrote.

Shulkin repeated many of those claims on major news networks in the week since he was fired. The VA’s response was labeled as debunking “the privatization myth” by pointing out the VA’s budget, workforce and facilities have all grown by large amounts in the past two decades.

The press release did say its looking to expand and consolidate its existing community care programs and coordinate with non-VA providers for care which the VA may not be able to deliver.

“The fact is that demand for Veterans’ health care is outpacing VA’s ability to supply it wholly in-house,” the press release said. “And with America facing a looming doctor shortage, VA has to be able to share health care resources with the private sector through an effective community care program. There is just no other option and, once again, VA has offered this solution since the World War II era.”

President Donald Trump nominated White House physician Ronny Jackson, MD, to replace Shulkin. Veterans groups have already questioned the choice based on Jackson’s lack of experience working with the VA or managing such a large organization, with AMVETS saying in a statement the administration “administration needs to substantiate that this active-duty Navy officer is qualified to run a $200 billion bureaucracy.”

Jackson hasn’t made any statement on his position on privatizing the VA, but Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee have said that’ll be a major question in his nomination hearing—and support for privatization would guarantee at least some Democratic opposition.

“Privatization means putting profits ahead of those who served our country, and I will fight any effort to use America’s veterans to line the pockets of wealthy corporations,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “We have a responsibility to work every day to strengthen and improve the VA for our veterans, and any nominee to head the VA must oppose efforts to abandon that responsibility by privatizing the VA.”