Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump education pick to face Warren, Sanders Sanders, Dems defend ObamaCare at Michigan rally Sanders: Not a 'bad thing' if Comey resigns MORE (I-Vt.) slammed a plan floated by President-elect Donald TrumpDonald Trump Martin Luther King's daughter: 'God can triumph over Trump' Trump: Monday will be day one of administration Trump's navy build-up comes with steep price tag MORE to create a “public-private option” for veterans to seek healthcare.
“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,” Sanders said in a statement Friday. “Our goal, shared by The American Legion and other major veterans’ organizations, must be to improve the VA, not destroy it.”
On Wednesday, a senior Trump transition official told reporters that the incoming administration was considering a “public-private option” for the Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, that would allow veterans to visit private-sector doctors rather than VA doctors.
"We think we have to have kind of a ... public-private option, because some vets love the VA. ... Some vets want to go to the VA,” the official said, according to a pool report. “So the idea is to come up with a solution that solves the problem. And it's not the easiest thing in the world because you've got all these little kingdoms out there, which is hard.”
Some veterans facing a long wait time or far distance to a VA facility can already seek private care through the Choice Card program approved by Congress in 2014.
But some people want to expand the Choice program to all veterans, including reported candidates for Trump’s VA secretary, Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, and Pete Hegseth, a Fox News commentator and former head of the Koch brothers-linked Concerned Veterans for America.
Critics, including many leading veterans organizations, say expanding Choice to all veterans would in effect be privatization, as it would undermine the VA by shifting resources away from it.
Sanders, who is on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and was once its chairman, highlighted the veterans groups’ opposition in his statement.
“The veterans’ organizations are right,” Sanders said. “We must protect the VA, not destroy it.”
For example, earlier this month, American Legion Executive Director Verna Jones said in a statement that Trump should know that “dollar-for-dollar, there is no better care or value available anywhere in the United States – period.”
Sanders also highlighted a quote from Paul Rieckhoff of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, who said veterans groups are worried the VA will get “burned down” by Trump, as well as a legislative call to action from earlier this year from the Veterans of Foreign Wars that blasts politicians who want to “dismantle and privatize the VA health care system.”
“When men and women put their lives on the line to defend us, the president must listen to them, not to the Koch brothers and their extreme right-wing, anti-government ideology,” Sanders said. “We will vigorously oppose any and all efforts to privatize the VA.”