Legion Slams 'Mouthpiece' Vet Groups over VA Health Care Plans

Doctor with an elderly patient.

Some of the country's leading veterans' service organizations are pressing lawmakers to defy lobbying efforts and legislation that they say will damage veterans' health care.

In a letter to Congress on Monday morning, The American Legion urged lawmakers not to listen to veterans' groups that are merely "mouthpieces" for organizations intent on privatizing Department of Veterans Affairs health care, a move that it says will spawn "a host of billion-dollar federal contractors, private medical enterprises and cottage-industry opportunists."

Though the Legion does not identify the "mouthpieces," it appears to be taking aim at Concerned Veterans for America, a Koch brothers-linked group that would have the VA overseen by a non-profit government organization while moving more veterans' health care to the private sector.

Those recommendations, pitched by CVA last year, are included in draft legislation that prompted the Veterans of Foreign Wars to issue an action alert last week warning members that "Politicians, pundits and politically-motivated organizations are using the national crisis in access to care at the Department of Veterans Affairs as justification to dismantle and privatize the VA health care system, with some even proposing that veterans be charged for their service-connected care. The VFW says no!"

The alert drew more than 6,000 responses over the weekend, according to the VFW, which on Monday joined with four other veterans groups to request a meeting with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, the sponsor of the draft bill, theCaring for Our Heroes in the 21st Century Act.

"We would like the opportunity to explain why we believe enactment of the legislation would have significant negative consequences for millions of veterans who choose, need or rely on VA for most or all of their health care," representatives of the VFW; The American Legion; Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America; and Paralyzed Veterans of America said in the letter to Rodgers.

In an email to Military.com, Concerned Veterans for America defended its positions on VA health care.

"Concerned Veterans for America has developed a bipartisan and comprehensive set of reforms to the VA that would offer all eligible veterans the ability to choose where they get their health care, and which would give the existing VA health care system the tools to better respond to the changing needs of the veteran community in order to better serve those who have sacrificed for our country," CVA Vice President Dan Caldwell said.

"We have a made robust effort to work with all major veteran organizations in advancing meaningful reform to the VA -- including ones that are now smearing us and others who support meaningful reforms to the VA with false and debunked accusations," he said.

Veterans groups are loathe to criticize each other publicly regardless of what they disagree on, as evidenced by the Legion's letter, which never names CVA but makes clear it is criticizing a veterans organization that endorsed increasing the role of the private sector in VA health care, has political and industry ties and has accused other veterans' groups of being "insiders."

Earlier this month, CVA went after the Paralyzed Veterans of America, accusing it of mischaracterizing Rodgers' proposed bill.

"[PVA's] D.C. insider-leadership has made clear that not only will it defend the VA, and its own place in the Washington establishment, at all costs, but also that it is willing to lie and mislead veterans about the solutions being proposed to deliver more timely care to veterans," CVA said in a press statement.

The Legion, in its letter on Monday, said that "to suggest that the nation's largest veterans service organization, or any other major VSO, supports a strong and robust VA because we are somehow 'insiders' or uninformed is insulting and counterproductive."

Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, said he is in agreement with the Legion's letter.

"We've been very vocal along with our fellow major VSOs in supporting and fixing the VA," he said. "We've made it very clear we need to fix the VA, but we are supportive of the VA health care system."

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at Bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at@BryantJordan.

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