By Shawn VanDiver
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has its fair share of challenges—no one disputes that. Still, over the last two years under Secretary Bob McDonald, VA has made irrefutable progress through the MyVA transformation. But you would never know that if you listened to the rhetoric of the politically motivated advocacy group calling themselves Concerned Veterans for America (CVA).
The deceivingly-named group has positioned themselves as champions of veterans who are simply seeking quality health care. Over the past year, CVA has slowly been exposed for what the American Legion called a “mouthpiece” vets group who is proactively trying to privatize VA.
Although they claim that their positions have been mischaracterized, CVA’s public statements and policies make it easy to remove the sheep’s clothing from this political wolf. Shedding light on CVA’s intentions is more important now than ever as they go on the defense trying to protect their former leadership from scrutiny as the Trump Administration considers them for various positions; both former CVA Executive Director and Fox News regular Pete Hegseth as well as CVA ally, non-veteran, and reform obstructionist Congressman Jeff Miller feature on the President Elect’s short list for Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
In 2015 CVA introduced the Veterans Independence Act that would, in their words, turn VA into an “independent, government-chartered nonprofit corporation.” Much of the plan relies on increasing the ability of veterans to use private hospitals and then tacking on co-pays and deductibles for that choice.
Essentially, the Veterans Health Administration, one of the largest health care networks in the country, would be split into two organizations: one that deals with health insurance and another—an independent nonprofit government corporation separate from Veterans Affairs—that oversees VA health facilities.
Veterans enrolled in the VA health-care system would still be eligible for free VA health care, but would also have the option of choosing private health care with co-pays and deductibles. Future veterans would have to use the new system and be subject to cost-sharing depending on their level of disability or financial need, but lowest-need veterans would not be included in the program. According to reputable Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), such a system would create even further obstacles.
These VSOs who, unlike CVA, represent millions of our nation’s veterans, have repeatedly warned that these proposals would decimate veterans’ health care and create unnecessary financial burdens on veterans. “The protections veterans now have in the VA system, particularly when health care goes awry, do not exist in the private sector,” explained Paralyzed Veterans of America deputy executive director Sherman Gillums Jr. “Privatizing health care for veterans will create a cottage industry for ambulance chasers who will be the only available option for veterans with medical malpractices cases.”
VA Secretary McDonald, a proven business leader and true agent of change, added his voice to the dissent saying, “There is an important role for outside care in the veteran health model to supplement VA’s own care, but that role should not diminish or obscure the importance of VA’s health care system. Reforming VA health care cannot be achieved by dismantling it and preventing veterans from receiving the specialized care and services that can only be provided by VA.”
CVA was successful in turning their plan into legislation in June 2016 by convincing Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers to introduce the cleverly-titled Caring for Our Heroes in the 21st Century Act. The proposal was met with fierce opposition from the VSOs. The American Legion said the plan would “spawn a host of billion-dollar federal contractors, private medical enterprises, and cottage-industry opportunists,” and The Veterans of Foreign Wars proclaimed in an action alert that “politicians, pundits, and politically-motivated organizations are using the national crisis in access to care at the Department of Veterans Affairs as justification to dismantle and privatize the VA health care system…the VFW says no!”
It has become very clear that CVA neither speaks for the nations’ veterans nor accepts the massive transformation that VA is undergoing. Streamlined systems, updated technology, more doctors and nurses, and a push for transparency and accessibility are real, measurable successes in the current VA. But despite all this—not to mention their various claims to the contrary—CVA has made privatization of VA the top priority of their communications firm.
President Elect Trump will send a clear signal when he selects his nominee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs. My ask of the President Elect is simple: Will you listen to the millions of veteran voices that real VSOs actually represent, or will you be suckered by a few well-paid “mouthpieces” of a communications firm on the leash of the very special interests you promised to reject in your campaign?
The VA is making irrefutable progress, and we owe it to our veterans to continue to build upon that progress. That means saying no to the likes of CVA.
Shawn J. VanDiver is a 12-year Navy veteran the Co-Director of the Truman National Security Project San Diego chapter. He has been published in local, national, and international outlets, including the San Diego Union Tribune, The Guardian, and The Daily Beast.
VanDiver serves on the San Diego Lawyers Club Human Trafficking Collaborative as well as the board of directors for The Women’s Museum of CA, Emerge CA, 4D PAC, and the San Diego County Veterans Democratic Club. He acts in an advisory role for No One Left Behind and Veterans for Responsible Solutions.
He attended National University and the Naval Postgraduate School, earning degrees or certificates in Domestic Security Management, Homeland Security and Safety Engineering, and Information Systems Operations; he holds multiple certifications spanning the enterprise of safety, homeland security, corporate security, emergency management, and teaching.
When not trying to change the world, he prefers to spend time with his 8-year-old son, Ryan, who is debating between careers as a Navy engineer / scientist / astronaut or as a pirate.