In November’s election, veterans and our military families voted for Trump by a 2-1 margin. As the Republican-controlled Congress prepares to vote on repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, possibly leaving 23 million citizens without coverage, we must get answers about the effect the action will have on our military veterans, and we must be sure government officials have not made empty promises.
President Trump’s budget proposes to provide a 6% funding increase – or $4.6 billion – to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The increase would go to providing better access to care in a more efficient manner. This is great and long awaited. On the campaign trail, Trump said he would make sure that every veteran has the choice to seek care at the Veterans Administration or through private sources paid for by the federal government. Veteran affairs reform, agency accountability, possible systemic privatization, a new era for the agency – all centerpiece commitments. For now, let’s focus on the question of better access and coverage of care outside the system.
According to a recent Rand Corporation study, 3 million veterans get medical care outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs system. The cost to outside care is covered by employer plans or by individual health care plans purchased on exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. These latter plans would be eliminated under the proposed legislation, shifting cost and demand back to an already stressed and backlogged VA system. In addition, according to a recent NPR interview with VA Secretary David Shulkin, reductions in state-provided Medicaid would shift the burden back to Veterans Affairs, further stressing a system that is currently attempting to fill 45,000 employment positions. Rand study author Carrie Farmer said the proposed health care legislation would present “a further challenge for the VA to provide timely and accessible care.”
Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer, a Naval Reserve officer and graduate of its War College, dismissed fears, stating that “the VA in particular, if you look at the problems that have plagued people (veterans), hiring more people isn’t the answer.” But the administration has provided no solutions to how they will serve these currently covered veterans who stand to lose coverage under the proposed health plan.
As a real estate developer, it is my responsibility to provide facts to decision makers or elected officials when proposing a project. Those facts are prepared and presented by experts and then crossed checked by other professionals to ensure accuracy. The process can take years. Before approval can be obtained, proof must be shown that the community in which the project is proposed benefits and is not harmed. Much time and money is expended in the pre-construction process. Unintended consequences are discussed. Contingencies are put in place. Trust must be built, and I must do what I promise to do. Why do we not demand this same accountability of Congress and our President? Why are we not demanding that time be spent to present facts on health care plans, especially after the recently released findings from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office? As fellow veteran James Tokar wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “I expect my president to keep his word to me and my roughly 6 million veteran brothers and sisters who depend on the VA for health care and to champion us — not cut our access.” I could not agree more.
I am a combat veteran. I am a Gold Star family member. I know of the sacrifices made to carry out policy believed to be in our country’s best interest. Sound policy can be implemented only after truthful – and often lengthy – discussion and debate. This administration cannot be trusted on health care reform and its impact on veterans. Will we fall victim to Trump’s graveyard of falsehoods and alternative facts? I speak only for myself when I say that I fear the Draft Dodger in Chief will once again break his word. As veterans, we must stand up and demand reform is completed only after sound and thoughtful policy debate, not sound bites and false campaign promises.