A report, cosigned by nearly half the Commission on Care, that called for the closure of all VHA facilities and the transfer of patients to private care drew immediate criticism from Veterans Service Organizations, media outlets, and the VA. The Proposed Strawman Assessment and Recommendations report asserted that “the current VA health care system is seriously broken, and because of the breadth and depth of the shortfalls, there is no efficient path to repair it.” The report called for immediate closure of “obsolete and underutilized facilities” and the eventual transfer of all VA patients to local providers within the next 2 decades.
“This would be a terrible mistake, a terrible direction for veterans and for the country, to essentially systematically implement recommendations that would lead to the end of the VA health care system,” Dr. David Shulkin, VA Under Secretary for Health, told Military Update.
Representatives of 8 Veterans Service Organizations also strongly objected to the report in a letter to Nancy Schlichting, the commission’s chairperson. “We are confident that any objective, unbiased analysis of all the relevant data and evidence about the VA health care system compared to private sector health care will demonstrate the benefits of maintaining and strengthening a dedicated veterans’ health care system.”
The letter, signed by representatives from Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, The American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, took issue with the report’s contention that the VA was too broken to repair: “This provocative statement, repeated in different forms several times throughout the 34-page document, is not backed up by any evidence or data to sustain such a broad and unequivocal condemnation.”
Mandated by the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, the 15-member Commission on Care is charged with providing recommendations for reforming veterans’ health care before July 1, 2016. In an open letter, Schlichting admitted that the report was designed to be provocative. “As the term strawman implies, the document was created by a subset of Commissioners to describe their personal ideas, which ultimately facilitated and focused public discussion and prompted new proposals,” Schlichting noted. “It represents options on a range of possibilities the Commissioners are evaluating as they work toward a consensus decision on their recommendations.”
In addition to concerns that center on the private health care industry’s willingness to recreate the unique veteran-centric programs that are currently offered by the VA, some critics have drawn attention to 7 members of the commission with ties to private industry and conservative politics. Even before the actual release of the report, The American Legion was critical of the Commission members “many of whom are medical industry executives,” which raised “conflict-of-interest concerns when those promoting privatization stand to gain financially if that becomes VA’s future.” American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett argued that “the proposal lacks any real understanding of the complexities of VA and serves primarily to set up the private industry to benefit.”