Here we are, eight months into the Donald Trump presidency, and his administration continues to be embattled as it has yet to pass any significant legislation, and even struggles to come up with a general consensus even within itself and the GOP. They seemingly are split over everything from the southern border wall, to what constitutes bigotry, and most importantly healthcare.
Now, it seems as if it may be the nation's veterans who will be caught in limbo as [the Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan led majority GOP congress stumbles around in the darkness trying to find the balance between standing with a republican president while still standing for...something?
How Did We Get Here?
The timeliness of the healthcare treatment received by veterans at the VA has long been a hot topic. Somewhere north of two hundred veterans have died waiting on care in Arizona, and Los Angeles has seen a comparable amount of veterans who died with pending VA appointments.
However, all of this turmoil within Veterans Affairs has led to much speculation regarding the future of the government entity. A little over two months ago, President Trump signed a VA reform bill, the implications of which many have interpreted to mean that the Trump Administration will move to privatize the VA. As is usually the case with the republican party, they intend to offer the patient alternatives to government care that will "hopefully" improve the overall quality of care received by the veteran.
However, as Suzanne Gordon, the author of the book “The Battle for Veterans' Healthcare: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Policy Making and Patient Care," indicated in an article that she wrote for "The Hill", there simply is no data to substantiate any claims that private hospitals provide better medical care to its patients than does the Va.
There is no survey that a patient can take to compare and contrast the quality of actual medical procedures performed at a VA hospital
and at a private one. With that being stated, it is undoubtedly the wish of the veteran involved that the first treatment suffices, eliminating the necessity to have the same procedure done at another hospital, even though this may provide an opportunity for comparison.
What Privatization Will Mean For Veterans
One of the attributes that makes the VA system a stalwart in the care of veterans is the fact that VA hospitals are uniquely equipped to care for the unique injuries and conditions that veterans face. The Veterans Health Administration, or VHA, is a division of the Department of Veterans Affairs, or the VA, which makes the hospital a government entity. Most of the staff are federally employed and trained, (the VA hospitals train more doctors than any of the country's private hospitals), and they are disciplined to treat the country's most valuable assets, our warriors.
There is no question that the VHA system has been over inundated and mired in scandal, and President Trump is rightfully addressing the issue, as is his job to do, but it seems that every time the president addresses an important problem, the question arises, "Could the fix be worse than the problem?" If the Administration's handling of the civilian healthcare system, (Obamacare), is any indicator of what veterans have to look forward to, than they made need to strap up for a long, rocky, and in the end, ineffective ride.
The GOP's stance towards healthcare has always been that citizens should have the right to control their own healthcare with as little prodding from Uncle Sam as possible. What this translates to is that overpriced medical services are the fiduciary duty of the patient and their private insurer, but even for the GOP, the veterans have always justly been the exception to this rule. A minute few would argue against the country's, and by extension, the tax payer's duty to the defenders of America's many freedoms.
The VA is a federal hospital that specializes in the care that soldiers need, and fittingly the bill is footed by the tax payers. Privatization of their care would remove many veterans from the care that they need the most, and then charge them for that disservice. That's why David Shulkin, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, wrote in an Op Ed for "USA Today" that VA Healthcare will not be privatized on our watch.
Can We Take Them At Their Word?
Given the Administration's early struggles to efficiently legislate and govern with so many democrats, and even moderate republicans, at Capitol Hill in a state of enmity with the White House, it is tempting to write Shulkin's bold statement off as double speech, especially considering what it means to give a patient receiving federal care more options for private care.
However, Shulkin gives very strong evidence for his claim, stating in his op ed that "we expect to spend $50 billion on health care services within VA and $12.6 billion on VA community care in fiscal 2018." He also went on to state that due to an increased workforce and capacity to treat patients that the VA is annually treating 3 million more soldiers per year than in 2014. All of this happened in accord with the expansion of private services offered to soldiers and vets to alleviate the pressure on the seemingly imploding VA healthcare system. This is solid proof that when hospitals compete, patients win.
The Trump Administration has had a rocky first eight months in office, much due to its own controversial and combative nature, but at some point a win for the White House has to mean a win for the country...or at least its veterans. And that's something that we can all feel good about.