Congress abandons veterans just before Memorial Day

Members of Congress were in their districts this Memorial Day, giving speeches about how much they appreciate the sacrifices of service members. But their constituents should take these fine words with more than a grain of salt. Just five days before the holiday, the US Senate passed a measure that will severely undermine veterans’ healthcare by setting the Veterans’ Administration on the road to privatization.

More money for the profit sector

President Trump signed the VA Mission Act at the beginning of June. The act funnels dollars to the private, for-profit sector. It promotes outsourcing of care now delivered at the VA, and it will empower a private, corporate-style commission to decide which VA facilities to close.

Only five Senators voted against this scam masquerading as reform of the VA. Shamefully, both Senators from Washington state, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, voted for it.

As a US Navy veteran and a socialist, I am outraged that both parties in Congress continually vote to authorize and fund one war after another; wars that serve US business interests around the world. I am also incensed that when soldiers return home suffering from PTSD, brain injuries and sexual assault, they are thrown under the bus by a Congress that puts corporate profits above quality healthcare for veterans.

A strategy to undermine the VA

The VA specializes in providing care for the kind of injuries and health conditions caused by war. Closing VA centers and forcing veterans into private facilities that have no experience in treating such conditions will be a disaster. Currently there are 49,000 staff vacancies at VA centers across the country. It’s time to fill those vacancies, expand services, and forget about privatization!

In order to facilitate its scheme to make the VA a profit center, the Trump administration has gone after the agency’s workforce. Executive orders have severely undermined VA workers’ union rights and made it much easier to fire them, with resulting staffing shortages. The dedicated federal employees who care for veterans, 120,000 of whom are veterans themselves, need union protections. Only with such safeguards can they can raise concerns about how the VA serves its mission without fear of retaliation. It was these workers, represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, who initially sounded the alarm about long wait times at the VA. They have been strongly supported by Veterans for Peace.

Put veterans in charge

Many decry the ponderous bureaucracy at the VA, including its own staff. The best way to make the agency function more efficiently and do right by veterans is to consult with the front-line workers who care so much about their patients and deliver quality care every day, in spite of the obstacles. Staff and veterans should be put in charge of driving positive changes at the VA.

It is time to demand that the current crop of millionaires in Congress stop attacking the VA, repeal the VA Mission Act, and make sure that the institution serves the welfare of veterans, not the corporate bottom line.

Steve Hoffman is the Recording Secretary for the Washington Federation of State Employees Local 304 and a delegate to the M. L. King County Labor Council. He is also the Freedom Socialist Party candidate for US Senate.

 

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