VETERANS FOR PEACE, NATIONAL NURSES UNITED, AND MEMBERS OF THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AND COMMON DEFENSE ARE WORKING TOGETHER TO STOP THE DISMANTLING OF THE VETERANS HEALTH ADMINISTRATION.
Lewis “Skip” Delano deployed to Vietnam in 1968 after growing up farming in Virginia and Maryland. After serving in the 101st Airborne Division, he came back in 1969 to train enlisted men in the use of chemical weapons. For the last 50 years, he has been involved in anti-war activities, which led him, ultimately, to Veterans for Peace (VFP) where he currently leads a national campaign to halt the halt the privatization of VA healthcare and fight for veterans’ health and well-being.
“It’s a great responsibility to fight for world peace, and we should abolish war as a matter of national policy,” said Delano. “But it’s not just about ending war – we must also embrace the core principles to seek justice for veterans and victims of war.”
Delano sees the effort to privatize the VA as a significant obstacle in the way of attaining justice for either group. Delano says that the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the closest the United States has to a national health care system like that in Canada or the United Kingdom, is a big component of healing veterans and creating a more equitable and healthy society.
For instance, equal access to care, provided at the VA, lead to the same survival rates between black and white men with prostate cancer. In the private sector, there is a wide gap between the two groups.
Delano worries that other veteran advocacy and service organizations have done too little to protect veterans’ health care. He points to their support of the VA Choice and MISSION Acts as failures to address veterans’ long-term needs and quality of care. He also compares private health care companies that lobbied for access to veteran patients as a customer base to defense contractors profiting off the weapons and wounds of war.
“All of the Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), except one or two, have not done enough to oppose privatization,” Delano said. He faults the VSOs for not doing more to educate their members about the long term impact those laws will have on the VHA. Delano said many progressive organizations that argue for Medicare for All or a Single-Payer System fail to make the connection between the VA, privatization, and private sector predatory practices.
To combat the lack of information around VA privatization and build a grassroots movement, VFP has partnered with several organizations for a three-day conference in Washington, D.C. VFP will work with National Nurses United, a nurses union with 100,000 members that has advocated for Medicare to cover all Americans. Members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) will also attend. AFGE has raised the alarm of VA privatization and chronic VA understaffing issues for years. Trump Administration VA officials recently walked away from the negotiating table during contract negotiations. Common Defense, a progressive veterans’ organization committed to ending forever wars and build a progressive veteran movement, is also lending assistance.
On February 11, NNU will hold a D.C. Town Hall on “A Healthy VA Means Healthy Vets” at the Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church. A panel discussion will include National Nurses United’s Elaine Sherman, Vietnam Veterans of America’s Rick Weidman, Wounds of War author (and VHPI senior policy analyst) Suzanne Gordon, and a representative from Common Defense.
In addition to the town hall, Delano says members of VFP will work with AFGE VA union members to speak to members of Congress.
Delano, was initially skeptical about the VHA, having heard stories about a terribly-run agency during the 1970s and 1980s. It wasn’t until he traveled back to Vietnam for the war’s 50th anniversary that he began to hear a different story from his fellow veterans. After enrolling in 2018, his view on the agency radically changed.
“As a teacher, I had a Cadillac [health care] plan, the best care available to anyone. But the VA actually provided a much superior quality of health care than I was receiving in the private sector,” Delano said. “I was so happy that I was lucky enough to be eligible for the VA.”
Despite the multi-faceted campaign by the Koch Brothers, corporate lobbyists, and anti-public health care lawmakers, Delano is optimistic about the agency’s future. He said that when he approaches veterans about the issues – like when he is passing out flyers outside the Manhattan VA – veterans are taken aback at the privatization attacks on their health care.
“Whenever you see people arguing for privatization, it’s always about how far or how long veterans have to go or wait, it’s never about superior quality,” said Delano. “And that’s because the quality of care at the VA is, most of the time, superior to that in the private sector.”