Veterans Might be Caught in the Slipstream of Trump Turmoil

Little Rock   The latest news flash is that current Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and former four-star Marine general, John Kelly, has been named the chief of staff at the White House, busting out another 6-month wonder. The hope is that he will bring discipline, order, and stability to the White House, but it’s a long stretch to believe that. Just imagine Ivanka, Jared, the boys, and President Trump as Marines for even a moment, and you know it’s just a picture that doesn’t fit. Trump is calling in Kelly to be recess monitor for a wild bunch running and yelling constantly. I just don’t see this working out well, but we’ll hope for the best.

Speaking of turmoil and the Trump’s generals, I would also argue that the state and protection of the health and welfare of our veterans is worth a bunch of worry as well. In almost a footnote, Congress recently was unable to pass the “popular” Choice bill for veterans health care. Seems that rather than increase the appropriation as needed, they simply tried to reappropriate money within the Veterans Administration budget and move it around to fund Choice while cutting back elsewhere. This is a department where most observers already felt it was unfunded in looking after 22 million veterans in the United States now, 9 million of whom use the VA for their primary and ongoing healthcare. If veterans healthcare isn’t protected, you know the rest of us are in deep, deep trouble.

Not that the Choice bill is anything to necessarily celebrate. Recently we spoke at some length with Suzanne Gordon, an expert in this area, who wrote a recent book about the strengths and weaknesses of the VA healthcare system, with her recommendations excerpted in the current issue of Social Policy. Choice is basically a system that allows a qualified veteran to chose a private doctor outside of the VA system and have it reimbursed by the federal government. There are certainly situations in which this is necessary. Obviously, there can’t be a VA hospital or clinic everywhere, especially given the ratio of military veterans to rural parts of America, but the real deal, according to Gordon and most anyone who has looked at the matter, is that this is a huge stalking horse for privatization of the system. That’s a problem!

Gordon was effusive on the many strengths of the VA system, especially in the areas of mental health and response to the drug crisis sweeping large parts of the country. All VA personnel are trained on mental health cues and signs of depression and suicide prevention, though ironically one of the programs threatened by the funding situation is in fact the suicide crisis line. No private facility can beat that record. So, yes, she acknowledges, there have been issues around waiting lines and other matters, but that still does not argue that the VA system currently continues to be best-in-class.

So, why the privatization push by some representatives? The VA is a public institution, and private hospitals, clinics and doctors are just that, private. They can make contributions to political campaigns. I rest my case. This is not about care, but campaigns.

General Kelly is no liberal. His performance at Homeland Security has been frightening. We can’t expect miracles, but at least a general might make sure his former soldiers are taken care of better.


Republicans’ Healthcare Bill: Is it Loving the Rich or Hating the Old, Poor, and Disabled?

U.S. Capitol Police arrest a health care protester outside the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on June 22, 2017.(Photo: Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images)

New Orleans  Ok, it’s alright if you admit it. Deep down, way deep, way down, some of you hoped that the Senate would really write a healthcare bill that looked and tasted a little bit like Obama’s Affordable Care Act. When President Trump said that he thought the House Republicans’ bill was “mean,” some of you felt a glimmer of hope that maybe the Senate Republicans would get the message and come up with something less draconian. You knew that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s strategy of doing everything behind closed doors in secret was a bad omen, but still, this is America, hope springs eternal, you thought maybe it would not be god awful, run-to-the-bathroom-sick at first sight terrible. Bad news, all hope has been dashed. The Senate version of a “mean” bill was a we-can-top-this even meaner bill.

The raw elements have emerged. The mandate for everyone to get health care is history of course. Tax increases for the rich that had funded much of Obamacare and transferred those taxes into increased coverage for poorer Americans were also eliminated. The Senate added a couple of years to the phase down, which might for a minute seem like a better deal until you realize that they shrank Medicaid even more than the House had done. The Senate believes they have compromised by allowing states to keep expanded Medicaid which benefited millions, but staying or going is up to the states, and staying also means that in the coming years they will pay a larger and larger share of the cost of Medicaid and any subsidies that are also timed out. Oh, and for good measure, so much for some of the guaranteed national benefits for those needing maternity care or mental health support.

Somehow the Senate sees this whole Obamacare as a two-fer. Not only do they want to repeal the Affordable Care Act and sock it to the poor while re-feathering the nest of the rich, but they also want to cap Medicaid on the federal level, rather than allowing it to continue as an entitlement. By ending the entitlement they also want to punish seniors who exhaust their savings before they are old enough for Medicare as well as the disabled who depend on Medicaid for their health care in addition to SSI payments for their support. This isn’t a war on the poor, but a wholesale massacre on almost any group of people not standing in line with a contribution and a ticket to some Republican’s fundraiser.

And, get this, for some of the Senators, none of this is enough. Four or five of them are claiming this bloodletting didn’t go far enough so they won’t vote to carry this garbage until it smells even worse. There are also a couple of moderates who seem slightly perturbed that some of this might stick on their shoes, but it is unclear that they are willing to crawl out on the limb.

What’s really going on here? Do they really love the rich that much? Do they really hate women, the poor, the old, and the differently abled so much?

What can people do now to keep this horror from happening later?


Please enjoy The Deslondes – Hurricane Shakedown

Thanks to WAMF.