Opinion: Keep veterans’ health care out of the profit-making business

Veterans’ health benefits shouldn’t be sold to the lowest bidder.

Military veterans beware. I am writing to let your readers know there is serious discussion by the current administration in Washington, D.C. to privatize the Veterans Administration’s health services and place the welfare of America’s veterans in the hands of corporate magnates like the Koch brothers and other profit-driven entrepreneurs.

This is an urgent matter for all Alaska veterans and non-veterans alike. Whether you use the VA or not, it’s there for most veterans if ever needed.

Right now, new rules are being drafted which will govern how veterans can access taxpayer-funded medical care in their community under the new Mission Act. These rules are set to take effect in June. This legislation was passed to get veterans more access to care, which is great, but the Mission Act provides cover for moving veteran care outside of the VA and into the private sector, where profit — not the welfare of patients — is the great motivator.

[Grant offering housing for Alaska Native veterans]

What’s at stake is the future care for millions of Americans who’ve served our nation. For some veterans, that service brought with it emotional and/or physical scars they will carry with them the rest of their lives. For some of these veterans, the scars are obvious — lost limbs or severe physical disabilities. Others suffer from toxic wounds after being poisoned with Agent Orange or pesticides. Younger veterans have suffered from severe brain injuries in recent wars. And of course there are emotional scars and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Our veterans need the best care available and that is from the Veterans Administration health care services. Veterans know the best place for them to get care is the VA. The VA is the only place that offers treatment specifically designed for veterans, and where the doctors, nurses and other caregivers are trained to look for service-related illnesses, such as toxic wounds and PTSD. Study after study shows that care in the VA is equal to or superior to care in the private sector. Read the following article for more information: https://www.militarytimes.com/news/2018/12/13/va-hospitals-often-the-best-option-for-medical-care-study-finds/. In addition, it costs less to treat a veteran in the VA than it does in the private sector — in part because there is no effort to make a profit. There is no profit incentive when one works for the federal government on a salary.

Right now, the unions, including National Nurses United and American Federation of Government Employees are fighting the privatization effort. The current administration is trying to silence that opposition and has come after the unions by stalling contract negotiations, issuing executive orders designed to gut the unions and washing away workers’ protections that have been in place for decades.

In August, two organizations — the American Legion and the Veterans For Peace — took a stand against private enterprise wresting the care of our veterans from the federal government. VFP is now distributing bumper stickers throughout the country, writing op-eds in countrywide newspapers like this one, and speaking out on radio and television shows throughout the nation.

We must do all we can to stop this effort. Your fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, siblings, relatives and friends joined the United States Armed Forces to serve proudly. Our physical and mental health benefits should not be sold to the lowest bidder.

I have used the VA for many years due to injuries and illness while on active duty. I am proud to be one of three veterans who held banners at the Anchorage VA facility and on the Parks Highway to decry the privatization of the VA. If you agree that veterans’ health care should not become part of a profit-making business, please contact U.S. Rep. Don Young and U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and tell them how you feel about privatization of VA health care.

Go to meetings held by local Veterans Administration leadership and voice your concerns. If you would like bumper stickers or banners against privatization of the VA health care system, contact me at P.O. Box 471, Willow, AK 99688 or (828) 230-6902.

• John Spitzberg lives in Willow. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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