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American Legion Defies Members, Discards Its Own Survey Showing Vets Want Private Care

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Luke Rosiak Investigative Reporter

The same week an American Legion survey found its members overwhelmingly wanted the option of choosing private or government doctors for health care, the Legion’s Washington headquarters told politicians the opposite: Veterans shouldn’t have a choice of private or government doctors, and that they didn’t want it.

The Legion’s top brass told The Daily Caller News Foundation that it threw out the survey results because surveys aren’t comprehensive and veterans weren’t savvy enough to know that private-sector doctors don’t always provide perfect care either.

The Legion and six other similar Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) wrote to a government commission April 29, saying their national executive boards did not favor expanding the Choice Card program to all veterans.

Currently, under that program, veterans can have the government pay private doctors if the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can’t serve them because wait times are too long or because there isn’t a facility nearby.

“We believe that the proper use of a ‘choice’ program can be a means of expanding access to care for some, but ‘choice’ should never be the ultimate goal of a health care system designed to meet the unique needs of veterans,” the groups wrote to the government’s Commission on Care.

“During the Commission’s deliberations last Tuesday, at least two of the Commissioners stated ‘the VSOs favor removing the 40-mile and 30-day standards’ and appeared to conclude that VSOs therefore supported unfettered access to the Choice program for all enrolled veterans who desire to use non-VA providers,” they wrote, saying this was not the case.

The letter continued stating they feared VA facilities would shut down for lack of use. Facilities would only be underused, of course, if the vast majority of veterans opt for private care — which, despite the survey, they are contending is not the case.

“Such unfettered access to the Choice program could result in a decline in the number of veterans using VA programs and facilities, which could threaten the financial and clinical viability of some VA medical programs and facilities,” they said.

This is an argument advanced by the VA employees union, because fewer VA facilities would mean bureaucrats might lose their jobs, but the Legion did not explain why this was automatically bad for vets, since veterans would still be receiving care.

“I think the survey certainly is indicative of frustrations within the VA system, and we’re absolutely committed to trying to fix those problems,” the Legion’s Legislative Director Ian de Planque said in an email to the TheDCNF. “I think what it doesn’t show is that the problems within VA are also indicative of American healthcare as a whole, and so simply opting out to the private sector won’t necessarily solve these issues. I think it’s selling a false solution.”

“Many veterans we’ve spoken to related they were eager to use the Choice program because of frustrations with VA, only to find that going outside VA caused even more problems for them,” the email continued. “They never realized that many of the problems VA faces are also faced in the community at large.”

“I think one small sample size doesn’t always represent the entire picture,” he said. “What we’ve seen firsthand is that pawning VA’s problems off on the private sector isn’t fixing the problem, it’s creating more problems.”

638 members responded to the online survey, and two-thirds said they supported expanding the choice between government and private care to all vets. (RELATED: VA Failed to Pay Private Doctors, Ruining Vets’ Credit, After Union Said Private Care Could Cost Their Jobs)

“In the online survey you mention of little over 600 veterans who responded, yes, the majority indicate an interest in more use of the Choice program, however that’s not necessarily indicative of the national picture faced by over 6 million veterans nationwide who utilize VA healthcare,” he continued.

He added that in his travels, he had talked to veterans who liked VA healthcare.

Marlyn Woodward, a member of the Legion in Wisconsin, told TheDCNF that “No one’s asking us who are members, we’re just the guys who pay the dues. Everyone I speak to up in this area is for [expanding] Choice Card.”

He said the American Legion headquarters staff were made up of out-of-touch politicians who were concerned with “their little clique” and gaining power by forging political alliances that would allow them to pay lobbyists.

“If they’re representing us like they said they were going to, fine, but when you get in with certain groups, you’re telling me the unions are going to be for the veterans?”

“I’m still a member but they’re not really speaking for the veterans,” Woodward stated.

The other groups whose Washington headquarters opposed expanding a private option were the Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Military Officers Association of America, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Vietnam Veterans of America.

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