The Administration

The common-sense argument for privatizing the VA

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“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.” – Sen. Bernie Sanders, Dec. 30, 2016.

I disagree.                                                  

{mosads}I served on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs in the 103rd Congress. VA waiting lists were at the top of our concerns. I once asked during a hearing why veterans shouldn’t be allowed to go to their own doctor. The VFW and American Legion angrily accused me of “cutting veterans’ benefits” by “privatizing” their care.

I discussed this with then-Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) and he told me about a World War II veteran in Irving, Texas, who was dying and in need of hospitalization. The nearest VA bed for him was in Houston. His wife couldn’t afford to be in Houston with him, so she sat in their home in Irving 250 miles away waiting for the phone call to tell her that he died and she could collect his body. After three months the call came. She drove to Houston and made the necessary arrangements.

During that time a small community hospital with empty beds was a block from their home. Why couldn’t he have died there with her by his side? None of this made any sense. It was clear that the VA was serving the interests of the VA, not the veteran.

The VA’s strongest supporters at that time were the WWII and Korea vets. The leadership of the veterans service organizations were from that group and were wined and dined by the VA. The VSOs were invested in the status quo. They believed that they were in charge and brooked no changes.

I was a Vietnam-era veteran. We were not celebrated. We didn’t wear our uniforms off base. We didn’t come home to parades. We didn’t join the VFW. Some of our numbers formed their own groups, but most of us just disappeared into the community. We’re not invested in the VA.

We are old now. Those who need hospitalization may still end up miles away from home in a facility indistinguishable from a warehouse. One floor might be occupied by AIDS sufferers or those addicted to alcohol or drugs. If you are admitted to the hospital you are at risk. It’s just easier that way.

Meanwhile, the reports to Washington will be rosy. Bonuses will be passed out to the warehouse management. And you, too, will die alone.

The VA should be privatized because government simply doesn’t see individuals. Government sees groups.  

“You say you want to do more for the vets? We increased the VA budget by 8.5 percent. There! We took care of the vets!”

Meanwhile Jason Simcakoski overdosed in Tomah, Wis. Sorry about that. Stuff happens.

Government bureaucrats work for their boss. Whether the program is food stamps, farm subsidies or veterans’ care, the individual at the receiving end of the program is merely the means to an end. The end is the pay and the bonus. If the boss is pleased, you will be rewarded.

There is a role for the government in veterans’ healthcare. It is not the common cold, gall bladder surgery or dentures. Not even cancer. There are private facilities with newer tools and techniques that are better equipped for patient care.

The VA should first commit to shortening the long lines waiting for the determination of eligibility for VA medical care. The government’s role in veterans’ care should then be focused entirely on matters that are the result of war. Traumatic brain injury, amputations, post-traumatic stress and the rehabilitation from those injuries are unique and special, and we should dedicate the entire medical resources of our government toward improving the lives of the wounded and their families.

Medicare needs reform as to reimbursement formulas and regulatory burdens, but it is the most patient-centric of all of our government healthcare programs. VA eligible vets should be enrolled in Medicare and allowed to make their own healthcare decisions. If that is privatizing VA healthcare, this old vet is for it.

It is reported that President-elect Donald Trump is interviewing managers from the Cleveland and Mayo Clinics for a VA secretary. Instead, he should be talking to Chainsaw Al.


John Linder was a member of Congress from Georgia for 18 years before retiring in 2010. If you would like to be added to his distribution list please, send your email address to:, or follow on Twitter: @linderje.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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