Democrats are blasting GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney for proposing to give veterans a healthcare voucher that critics say would undermine the Veterans Affairs system.
Romney introduced the idea Friday at a South Carolina campaign event. He said a voucher would give veterans more choices and force the government to compete with the private sector.
“Sometimes you wonder, would there be some way to introduce some private sector competition [in which] each soldier gets X thousand dollars attributed to them and then they can choose whether they want to go on the government system or the private system and then it follows them,” he said, “like what happens with schools in Florida where they have a voucher that follows them? Who knows?”
“Why would Mitt Romney endorse a plan that has been universally panned as disastrous for veterans’ health care?” Boswell wrote. “Either he hasn’t done his homework or he’s putting politics ahead of the best interest of our nation’s veterans.”
Critics worry vouchers would increase costs for veterans and hurt the quality of their care. The Veterans of Foreign Wars opposes proposals that could weaken the government-run Veterans Affairs system, which multiple studies have shown provides quality care that includes specialist care for health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The VFW doesn’t support privatization of veterans’ healthcare,” a VFW spokesman told Talking Points Memo when the issue first surfaced Friday. “This is an issue that seems to come around every election cycle.”
Democrats see a winning issue. The proposal is unpopular with many veterans, while also drawing attention back to Romney’s proposed Medicare vouchers.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s not surprising to see this kind of rhetoric from Romney,” Boswell wrote. “He has proposed a plan that would privatize Medicare and slash Social Security.”
Romney's campaign said the candidate was simply discussing ideas at the event, not laying out new policy proposals. The campaign also pointed out that the Obama administration in 2009 proposed to bill veterans' private insurance companies for combat-related injuries, before withdrawing the idea within 48 hours in the face of stark opposition from veterans groups.
"We appreciated [Romney's] willingness to listen to our concerns and discuss ways to ensure that we have the adequate resources to meet the needs of our fighting men and women," the event's moderator, Retired Army Colonel Fareed Betros, said in an email from the Romney campaign. "It was clear from our conversations that Governor Romney is only interested in providing veterans with the world-class care they deserve and reversing the defense cuts and failed policies of the Obama administration."
The campaign also emailed a statement of support from former Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi.
"Mitt Romney will fulfill [the nation's obligation to veterans] by building a VA health care system for the 21st Century that is patient focused," Principi wrote. "He will bring the full weight of his office to eliminate the backlog of claims for disability compensation and pensions. He will supply our troops the military they need to win wars and come home safe. And, at a time when the Obama economy has resulted in a 12.1% unemployment rate for returning veterans, Mitt Romney will grow our economy to create the jobs that our veterans need and deserve."
This story was updated at 2:18 p.m.