Acutely aware that its privatization plan has little support among veterans, the VA has launched a PR blitz to obscure what it's doing.The Trump administration’s multipronged effort to privatize the VHA and push millions of veterans out of the VA system remains deeply unpopular among American veterans. But rather than adjust its proposals to meet the needs and wishes of veterans, the administration has a better idea: deny that the changes—which include funding private care at taxpayer expense—amount to privatization at all.
Over the past several weeks, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and his advisors from the Koch brothers-funded Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) have launched a PR offensive refuting critics who contend that the agency’s plan to funnel money to private care will lead to VHA privatization. In multiple press releases, Wilkie adamantly denied that channeling millions of veterans—and billions of taxpayer dollars—to private-sector health care providers amounts to VA privatization. Wilkie even convinced four former VA secretaries, including one who served under President Obama, to publish an op-ed at FoxNews.com echoing the VA party line. The VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs followed up with a press release reasserting that, “The former secretaries also pushed back strongly against predictable and false claims that the new standards amount to privatization of the VA.”
VA leadership has also sent out a number of directives instructing VHA public affairs officers and staff to refute veterans’ concerns about VA privatization. A document entitled “Veteran Community Care (VA MISSION Act)—Eligibility and Access Standards,” obtained by the Prospect from several sources who preferred to remain anonymous, has a long section advising how to counter any questions from veterans uneasy about privatization. Staff are directed to respond with, “There is no effort underway by anyone or at any level to privatize the VA.”
In yet another set of talking points delivered to VA staff and public affairs officers, VA leaders claim that outsourcing more and more VHA care doesn’t constitute privatization because privatization only occurs with “the transfer of ownership, property or business from the government to the private sector.” It goes on to say, “There has never been a proposal to do this, not from the Administration, Commission on Care or from any Veterans organization, including Concerned Veterans for America.”
In asking staff to serve as a mouthpiece for the CVA, the VA leadership is taking yet another step toward an organization that has long been hostile to the VHA. Indeed, Darin Selnick, who has been a senior advisor to CVA, is now overseeing the implementation of the MISSION Act inside the VA. As one VHA staffer who preferred to remain anonymous said, “I don’t know if Selnick wrote this document or just edited it.”