By Isaiah Minter | United States
In the wake of former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s departure from his cabinet position, news writers across the country are losing their minds over the likelihood of VA privatization. While Shulkin, who insists that he was fired by Trump via Twitter, cites his opposition to VA privatization as the reason for losing his department job, I haven’t seen any evidence that provides validity to the claim. As a result, I will leave Shulkin’s claim as is, and instead address the media fear-mongering suggesting that thousands of veterans are going to die, should privatization actually occur.
One of the most important distinctions to make between public and private institutions is the accountability of the latter and the lack thereof of the former. Allow an example. When Congress members authorized the invasion of Iraq, they were fully aware of the immense obligation to provide health benefits to veterans with this move. Distinguished economist Joseph Stiglitz estimated the costs of benefits in Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts to be about $1 trillion on their own.
This enormous cost was largely irrelevant to Congress members as they weren’t funding the obligation, nor did they face any turmoil for increasing federal borrowing. They went on with their careers, wholly unconcerned with any future ails that such authorization could create. In other words, they paid no price for this decision, and our veterans certainly deserve more than a system which is rarely held accountable for its shortcomings. We need only consider the words of economist Tom Sowell:
It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.
Continuing on the trend of inaccountability, we cannot ignore the lengthy list of scandals that have plagued the VA in its history.
Apart from irresponsibility, wait times also plague the system. Over 200 veterans died waiting for care at the Phoenix VA in 2015. One report done by the VA Inspector General found that nearly 100 veterans died waiting for care at the Los Angeles VA. Perhaps the most worrisome figure comes from a VA OIG report, which found that thousands of vets may have died waiting for care. The report also found a series of institutional problems, ranging from data limitations due to inadequate VHA procedures, to a faulty enrollment program, to employees incorrectly marking applications.
I do not doubt that VA employees are doing their very best at their jobs, but their department makes it very hard for them to do their job. Even if we assume that this department worked as its creators planned, its method of organization still harms our veterans. Veterans’ health benefits in this country are delayed costs, meaning they surface decades after the military conflict ends.
The Congress funds these delayed costs – through the VA – only when the obligation comes to fruition. This system allows the Congress to engage in military conflicts with ease, ignoring the burdens of foreign intervention for some time, only to then default on the burden of veterans’ healthcare when they need the obligation filled.
How this approach benefits the American people and our veterans alike remains unclear. Therefore, if we desire a political approach to this issue that would benefit our veterans and the American people alike, privatization of the VA is essential.
This alternative approach offers two main benefits: one, it improves the quality of medical care by introducing competition and innovation into the healthcare market, and two, it forces Congress to consider the enormous cost of war prior to intervening by pre-funding veteran benefits.
In this manner, the policy can garner support from both sides of the aisle by appealing to pro-market Republicans and non-interventionist Democrats.
Despite what the media is suggesting, this policy is an argument for competition and accountability, not greed and the exploitation of our men and women in uniform. Justification for the policy suggests, and rightfully so, that transferring the department’s physical capital to veterans is key to improving veterans’ healthcare.
In the end, continuing the current system is unlikely to benefit our veterans or the American taxpayer. In fact, government hands these taxpayers the bill for senseless military intervention. If we truly want to help both groups, privatizing the VA is crucial.