Politics

Obama: VA Is Getting Better, So Privatizing It Is Wrong

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas.

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Jonah Bennett Contributor

President Barack Obama said last week he completely opposes proposals to privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs, as the agency is on the mend.

In an exclusive interview with The Gazette, Obama said Thursday “dismantling the VA system would be a mistake” because it has steadily improved under his administration.

“If you look at, for example, VA health care, there have been challenges getting people into the system. Once they are in, they are extremely satisfied and the quality of care is very high,” Obama told The Gazette following the graduation ceremony at the Air Force Academy.

“I think the main message is that we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Obama added. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck process.”

The emphasis on care once inside the VA is an important one for the Obama administration, as new patient care data recently showed the number of veterans waiting over 30 days for care has surpassed 500,000, as of May 15. Wait time data is not encouraging, and perhaps in anticipation of this, VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in May that the metric the VA should most be focused on is overall satisfaction with the experience — which is how Disneyland operates.

His comments downplaying wait times prompted calls for McDonald to resign, as many thought he was ignoring the suffering of vets when they wait for desperately-needed care. For starters, waiting in a line at Disneyland for Space Mountain, a rollercoaster ride, is much more enjoyable than waiting in pain for care in a hospital environment. Second, people generally don’t die while waiting in line at Disneyland.

In fact, problems at the VA are so prevalent that even Democrats want privatization to at least be on the table for discussion.  “Obviously, the devil is in the details. I cannot see how they will ever be able to buy enough staff and keep them on staff for a long enough time and be able to solve the issues they face. I think it’s beyond their finances and beyond their organizational capabilities – I just think it’s too big,” retired Maj. Gen. Irv Halter told The Gazette.

Additionally, the Commission on Care, a panel created by Congress in 2014 to come up with major policy reforms for the VA, is apparently just one vote away from endorsing privatization.

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