Veterans Groups Criticize Secret Proposal to End VA Healthcare

A new VA Health Care center in Salisbury, N.C. -- set to open this year -- would be shut down by a new proposal concocted in secret by a group of federal legislators. (VA photo)
A new VA Health Care center in Salisbury, N.C. -- set to open this year -- would be shut down by a new proposal concocted in secret by a group of federal legislators. (VA photo)

Several of the largest veterans' service organizations in the US are criticizing a proposal drafted in secret to shut down veterans' hospitals and clinics across the country and turn over veterans health care to the private sector.

The proposal was circulated outside the normal process by several members of a congressionally mandated Commission on Care created to study how VA will provide health care over the next couple of decades.

"We are greatly alarmed by the content of the 'proposed straw man document' that was developed and drafted outside the open Commission process by seven ... of the fifteen members -- without the input or even knowledge of the other Commissioners," states the letter to the panel's chairwoman, Nancy Schlichting.

It was signed by the heads of Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The 34-page proposal would privatize veterans' health care and completely eliminate the Veterans Affairs Department health care facilities over the next 20 years, they said.

The proposal also calls for an immediate halt to new VA construction and for a "BRAC-like process" to begin shuttering existing hospitals and clinics, referring to the Pentagon's base realignment and closure process. The department's future role would essentially be to pay the bills of veterans getting care in the private sector.

Schlichting, chief executive officer of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, had previously warned commission members against recommending a "payor-only" role for VA.

The VSO chiefs said what is "most unsettling about the [recommendation] is the utter lack of consideration that veterans would want to improve and expand the VA health care system. There is also no discussion of how this proposal would affect the coordination of care, the quality of medical services and the health outcomes of veterans."

Instead, the document simply asserts that "the current VA health care system is seriously broken and ... there is no efficient path to repair it" without backing up the assertion, the chiefs wrote.

Commissioners behind the straw man document are David Blom, former president of OhioHealth's central Ohio hospitals; Dr. Toby Cosgrove, chief executive officer of The Cleveland Clinic; retired Rear Adm. (Dr.) Joyce Johnson, formerly with the US Public Health Service and a former surgeon general of the US Coast Guard; Darin Selnick, the Senior Veterans Affairs Advisor for Concerned Veterans for America; retired Marine Gen. Martin Steele, associate vice president for Veterans Research, executive director of Military Partnerships, and co-chair of the Veterans Reintegration Steering Committee at the University of South Florida in Tampa; Dr. Marshall Webster, senior vice president of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; and retired Marine Corps Maj. Stewart Hickey, national director of AMVETS and former CEO for the Hyndman Area Health Center, Pa.

Five of the seven commissioners backing the shutdown of VA health care are Republican appointees, including all three named by former House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio before he resigned last year. Concerned Veterans for America, the group advised by Selnick, is a lobbying group largely funded by the billionaire Koch brothers that seeks to cut budgets and responsibilities of the VA.

--Bryant Jordan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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