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Trump discusses options to privatize veterans' healthcare

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Rear Admiral Michael C. Vitale visits with World War II veteran Royce D. Hammer at the Louisville Veterans Administration Hospital in this archive photo. Health care for U.S. veterans could change dramatically if Veterans Administration services are privatized, an option being considered by president-elect Donald Trump. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Terry W. Matlock)

By Jamie Rogers

President-elect Donald Trump may be considering an extensive overhaul of the Veterans Administration after meeting with executives and advocates who support privatization of veteran’s medical treatment.

Among those that Trump discussed the future of the agency with at one of his resorts last week was Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, who has publicly backed letting veterans choose private medical treatment over receiving care through a VA hospital or clinic. The meetings also included executives from the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins Medicine and Partners HealthCare.

“I’ve been saying we have to take care of our vets,” Trump said from his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago. “We are working on something to make it great for our veterans because they are treated very, very unfairly.”

“We think we have to have kind of a public-private option, because some vets love the VA,” he added. “Definitely an option on the table to have a system where potentially vets can choose either/or or all private.”

It is unknown whether Trump’s proposal would cover all veterans, all veterans currently receiving VA care or only a smaller segment of that population.During his campaign last summer, Trump promised to “ensure every veteran in America has the choice to seek care at the VA or to seek private medical care paid for by our government.” Critics questioned how such a plan would work and what the potential costs would be.

About 9 million veterans—40 percent of the total U.S. veterans population—use VA medical services or receive veterans benefits. VA officials said nearly one-third of all medical appointments conducted last fiscal year were with physicians outside the department.

Some opponents to the idea of privatization, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, warned Trump against the move, saying it could undermine VA care by shifting resources away from department physicians best suited to diagnose and treat ailments facing veterans.

“Privatizing the VA would be an insult to the more than 22 million veterans who risked their lives to defend our country and it would significantly lower the quality of health care they receive. Our goal, shared by The American Legion and other major veterans’ organizations, must be to improve the VA, not destroy it,” Sanders said in a statement Friday.

The American Legion, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and many other veterans organizations oppose privatizing the VA because the groups say that only a publicly run medical system, free from concerns about profit, has the versatility to serve the special needs of military veterans. They also worry that the vouchers the government would provide veterans to purchase private care under some proposals would fail to keep pace with the cost of services.

A survey conducted last year for Disabled American Veterans, a nonprofit serving more than a million veterans each year, found most believe the federal government should shoulder the responsibility of providing care. What do you think about the idea to privatize the medical care of the Veterans Administration?


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