Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The Right Wants to Make Disabled Veterans Into the New “Welfare Queens”


In recent years, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have backed privatization of services provided by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). As part of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the VHA serves about nine million patients and operates the largest public health care system in the country.

Since 2015, billions of dollars have been diverted from VHA care to private doctors and hospitals who treat veterans in costlier and less effective fashion. This cannibalization of the VHA budget began under President Barack Obama, escalated during the Donald Trump era, and continues under Joe Biden.

Up until now, few Republicans, or their allies like the Koch brothers–funded Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), dared to attack the VA-run Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), a sacred cow even for conservatives. Nearly six million veterans currently receive payments for service-related medical conditions that left them partially or totally impaired; among them are 1.3 million men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their total compensation, plus pensions, costs the public about $110 billion per year.

Publication of a new book, touted by Trump’s last VA secretary, signals that any ceasefire over veterans’ benefits has ended inside the Beltway. In Wounding Warriors: How Bad Policy is Making Veterans Sicker and Poorer, Daniel Gade, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel and former Trump administration official, has teamed up with an ex–Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Huang, to demand major “entitlement reform” at the VBA.

The authors — who are definitely not critics of the military-industrial complex — denounce what they call a “disability-industrial complex.” They argue that monthly checks from the VBA foster a costly and unhealthy culture of dependence among veterans — and should be sharply restricted, not expanded.

Robert Wilkie, the Republican operative who helped expand VHA outsourcing while serving as VA chief until last year, has joined the call for benefit cuts from his own new perch at the Heritage Foundation. At a Veterans Day event with Gade in November, Wilkie accused his former agency of being overly “focused on getting veterans checks and not getting them well and getting them back into society.” Like Gade, he claimed that veterans service organizations encourage former military personnel “to play disability” — with the result being that too many noncombat veterans are getting undeserved compensation.


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