Veterans Might be Caught in the Slipstream of Trump Turmoil

Ideas and Issues

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.