A transition official a part of GOP President-elect Donald Trump’s team ratcheted up tensions with veterans’ groups Wednesday after the official said Trump is thinking about moves to privatize at least part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Such a bold move is opposed not only by most veterans’ advocacy groups, but also by the VA itself, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The unidentified official said Trump is thinking about permitting some veterans to sidestep the VA completely through giving access to all of their care from the private sector.
“It’s one of the options on the table,” the official said Wednesday. “Definitely an option on the table to have a system where potentially vets can choose either or, or all private.”
While this step wouldn’t constitute full privatization, veterans groups are worried that a move like this would set off a slippery slope, eventually resulting in the abolition of the entire department.
Trump apparently discussed these possible changes during a series of private meetings held in Florida Wednesday. After the meetings concluded, he asked the transition official to update a pool of reporters about some of the conversations on the table.
“How would you implement a program that could get vets the ability to go to any hospital that they wanted to go to,” the transition official relayed, describing one of the private conversations from the meetings. “If you were in the VA or out of the VA, how would you set it up?”
Veterans’ groups have already expressed their anxiety about privatization moves repeatedly.
In early December, representatives from approximately 30 veterans service organizations met with the Trump transition team to outline their visions for the VA, with not a single organization at the meeting coming out in support of privatization.
“The American Legion absolutely opposes privatization,” American Legion Executive Director Verna Jones told Military.com. “We strongly advocate for a healthy VA health care system for veterans.”
“The worst case scenario within the vets community is a total dismantling of everything they worked generations to create,” Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said. “There is a growing fear it is all going to get burned down.”
“Privatization is an experiment,” Rieckhoff added. “Is that an experiment we want to take in the middle of a war with demand about to skyrocket?”
Reform of the VA has been a top priority for Trump, given the amount of time he spent during the campaign bemoaning the poor care veterans have received. He still has not picked a secretary of the VA.
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