The Privatize-the-VA Lobby Wilting With Exposure

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House Veterans Affairs Committee Votes To Subpoena Information On Phoenix VA Deaths
House Veterans Affairs Commitee chairman Jeff Miller not reacting well to exposure of profit motive behind "VA Health Scandal."Photo: Alex Wong/2014 Getty Images

You probably recall the great Veterans Affairs Health-Services Scandal of 2014, in which VA bureaucrats were accused of more or less killing vets who were wait-listed for services they were entitled to receive. The scandal was nicely pocketed by conservatives calling for allowing veterans to access services anywhere, which was code for privatizing the services and subsidizing them via vouchers. 

But not everybody bought the VA narrative. At Washington Monthly (disclosure: I used to write for that publication) earlier this year, investigative reporter Alicia Mundy dug into the story and quickly discovered the role of the Koch-brothers-funded group Concerned Veterans of America in publicizing and sometimes just inventing tales of VA malfeasance:

Working through the CVA, and in partnership with key Republicans and corporate medical interests, the Koch brothers’ web of affiliates has succeeded in manufacturing or vastly exaggerating “scandals” at the VA as part of a larger campaign to delegitimize publicly provided health care.

Those invested in the “VA Scandal” didn’t take this lying down, of course, as Monthly editor Paul Glastris reports today:

In reaction to our story, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Jeff Miller (R-Tea Party) wrote an intemperate letter attacking the story’s key findings as “completely false,” allegations we rather easily countered. Then Miller appeared before the commission his legislation mandated and made a damned fool of himself. Then a faction of the conservatives on the commission were outed for writing up a secret draft of the commission’s recommendations—in which they call for full privatization of the VA—in possible violation of the Sunshine and Federal Advisory Committee Acts.

Perhaps the more important consequence of the brouhaha over the Monthly story is that veterans groups are firing back at the privatizers.

[L]eaders of eight prominent veterans’ groups, including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, sent a letter to the commission chair slamming the secret draft and expressing their united opposition to privatizing the VA. This is an important development. As Mundy explains in her piece, a big reason the privatization push has gotten as far as it has is that the traditional veterans groups allowed themselves to be sidelined politically by CVA. Now, finally, those groups are fighting back. And while they don’t have seats on the commission, they do have 5 million members.

It may be time for some revisionist history of the “VA Scandal,” and, more generally, of well-funded efforts to destroy publicly provided and insured health care.