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Gunning for VA Privatization

By Suzanne Gordon and Steve Early

Funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was one of many federal budget items that suddenly became uncertain during the debt ceiling showdown this spring. Despite their oft-professed love for veterans, House Republicans voted for the Limit, Save, Grow Act in late April, which would have cut VA spending by 22 percent.

This threat to essential services—and the appearance that former soldiers had become political pawns—drew an angry response from veterans organizations, putting House Republicans on the defensive. In a May 11 opinion piece in Military Times entitled “Our Budget-Cutting Plan Doesn’t Harm Veterans,” Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) reassured former service members that their “earned benefits will never be scrutinized” and “their healthcare will never be compromised.”

The eventual debt ceiling deal preserved the VA budget, thanks in part to public outcry. In a Wall Street Journal article after the dispute was settled, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy boasted that Republicans were not only “meeting our obligations to veterans,” but fully funding their programs.

On Capitol Hill, veterans’ entitlements went, in a matter of weeks, from being a political football to a sacred cow once again—to the relief of many. But now, congressional leaders are signaling that any temporary cease-fire over veterans’ health care and how to fund it is over.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will soon be considering new bills that would force the VA-run Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to divert an even bigger share of its $128 billion annual budget from direct care to Medicare-style reimbursement of private-sector doctors. To read the full investigation into these proposed schemes, published in this month's issue of The American Prospect, click here.

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