Power to Do Harm

When evidence-based care takes a backseat to power, money, and political influence.

By Brett W. Copeland
VHPI Executive Director

Revelations that veterans healthcare policy was being dictated to the highest levels of the Trump Administration by a group of wealthy Mar-a-Lago patrons is horrifying — but not particularly surprising.

Many of VHPI’s policy analyses and articles by our fellows, like one on Steven A. Cohen and the Cohen Veterans Network, have exposed the way that big corporate interests and a coterie of multi-billionaires have put profit ahead of care for our veterans.

Isaac Arnsdorf’s recent Pro-Publica / Fortune magazine exposés on the Mar-a-Lago trio and the Cohen Veterans Network have added more proof that power and the potential for profit overrides evidence that the VA is better-positioned to care for veterans. Numerous reports have found that non-VA providers are unprepared to treat veterans and largely do not understand military culture, a key component in effectively providing healthcare to veterans.

But the idea that ‘the private sector is superior’ is so steeped within our national consciousness that no one bats an eye when elites like Ike Perlmutter, Marc Sherman, and Bruce Moskowitz recommend a non-VA provider. Last year, our organization (under its original name) published a piece on a Lois Pope-financed ‘documentary’ about the VA that premiered at Mar-a-Lago. The film contained the same pro-private care bias and anti-VA framing that has been accepted and spread by mass media. The narrative has been relentlessly pushed by special interest groups and the three very wealthy men who had unprecedented access to the former VA secretary.

All of these recent in-depth reports call into question the motivations behind the VA MISSION Act’s massive outsourcing of care. We must examine the Trump Administration’s manufactured shutdown showdown with Congress over draining the VA’s funding to providers as outlined in the MISSION Act. We must also reassess President Trump’s Executive Order for expanding mental health services for service members who are transitioning to civilian life which places emphasis on community care at the expense of the VA’s (more successful) suicide prevention efforts.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) and other Democrats have called for transparency. That is not enough.  We must ask how large organizations and lawmakers can be held to account for rushing through a VA MISSION Act — with virtually no discussion that it has no funding source.

We have no evidence that its untested “integrated community care model” will save money or deliver more effective services. But we do have a lot of evidence from the Choice program that it provided ample opportunity for for corruption and catastrophic failure to provide timely and needed care.

The Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute encourages all decision makers to follow the evidence — every single time. The cacophony created by public and private ideologues, billionaire privatization advocates, and big-moneyed groups like the Concerned Veterans of America have done nothing to actually improve veterans care.

Indeed, they may irrevocably harm honest efforts to enhance the health and well-being of the nation’s veterans.

America’s veterans deserve health care that works and is cost-effective — not the ‘brilliant’ ideas birthed from billionaires with questionable motivations who sit around a table at President Donald Trump’s Winter White House.

Brett Copeland