National Nurses United today urged Senate members to reject S. 2372, the VA Mission Act which they called a major step towards the privatization of veterans health care which could endanger the health of millions of U.S. service veterans. The Senate is expected to vote as soon as Wednesday on its version of the bill that passed the House last week.
“Marketed as a means to expand some benefits for veterans, this bill masks a long desired corporate, far right goal of accelerating the dismantling and privatization of our Veterans Administration program at the expense of countless veterans who have served our nation,” said NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN. NNU represents 11,000 VA RNs among its 150,000 members.
The proposed bill gives the Veterans Administration Secretary the authority to privatize and dismantle broad swaths of the VA system. It also creates a commission, appointed solely by the President bypassing Congress, which would have the ability to close VA medical centers and clinics.
“It would be more honest and transparent to call this bill the Mission to Privatize Act and stop the pretense it has any other real goal,” said Ross. “If Congress members want to expand benefits for our veterans, they should enact that legislation as a stand alone measure, not as political cover for a hastening a program of privatization.” NNU strongly supports efforts to expand benefits, as well as to fully fund VA health services, she said.
“Despite all the attacks on our precious VA system, the reality is the VA medical system is far better equipped to provide the clinical and cultural expertise needed especially by our wounded veterans,” said Ross.
That includes “critical treatment of severe war related injuries, such as traumatic brain and spinal chord injuries, PTSD, and mental health problems. We urge our elected leaders not to abandon our veterans who need this specialized care,” Ross said.
In a letter to Senators today, Ross and NNU Co-President Deborah Burger cited a recent RAND Corporation study. Commissioned by the VA, which found that the VA medical system is working as well or better than non-VA care. On average, VA hospitals performed the same or “significantly better” than non-VA hospitals on almost all patient, mortality and effectiveness measures, researchers found.
For outpatients, VA facilities performed better than commercial and Medicaid HMOs; and better or similarly to Medicare HMOs.
Additionally, S. 2372 allows for primary care to be given over to private health care providers, which nurses say jeopardizes patient care for our nation’s veterans.
“Our registered nurses that provide VA care know that primary care is the heart and soul of the VA. Farming out primary care to other providers will be a major step to dismantling the VA entirely, opening the door to privatize services that have historically been provided at the VA, and undermining one of the other strengths of the VA system—the integration of care,” wrote Burger and Ross, RN in the letter.
Private healthcare is also far more expensive than the cost effective VA system, Ross noted. It is expected that the bill would open the door to higher out of pocket costs for veterans at a time many are already struggling with higher housing costs and other economic troubles, especially those trying to reintegrate into society.